Tuesday, April 11, 2006 (Meerut, New Delhi): An angry city bade farewell to the victims of the Meerut fire tragedy. Fifty-four people were killed and several others injured in the devastating fire at the consumer fair in Meerut. Some of the cremations took place at the Surajkund grounds in the city. Of the 32 bodies that were recovered from the site, 12 were identified and handed over to the relatives for last rites.
The fire broke out at the Brand India consumer fair in Meerut’s Victoria Park on Monday.
The injured have been admitted to different hospitals in Meerut and in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital and AIIMS. Congress President Sonia Gandhi visited the site of the tragedy and met some of the victims in Meerut’s Jaiwant Rai Hospital.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav also visited Victoria Park on Tuesday, but was greeted by angry residents demanding higher compensation and action against those responsible.
Clashes broke out between Samajwadi Party and Congress workers, forcing Yadav to cut short his visit. Samajwadi Party workers also attacked mediapersons.
On Monday, the government had announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the families of each of the dead, Rs 50,000 for those seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who have suffered minor injuries.
The injured are also receiving free treatment.
The Uttar Pradesh government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, which will be headed by Chief Development Officer Pushyapati Saxena.An FIR has been registered against the organisers, Mrinal Events and Expositions, for causing death due to negligence and damage to property. The company’s owner Lakhan Tomar has since been absconding.
Lakshmi Kant Vajpayee, a local BJP MLA, showed NDTV a copy of the permission letter granted to the organisers, which clearly indicates that no fire safety measures were enforced.
NDTV also has access to the map, which was circulated by the organisers ahead of the exhibition. The map shows five emergency exits. But shockingly, all of these were blocked.
"The organisers had applied for permission to conduct the fair and they said they will take care of all the arrangements. On March 30, the officer in-charge gave his permission to conduct the fair," said Vajpayee.
"The organisers said they will arrange for private security personnel, and were granted permission under Section 144. No fire safety measures were taken. The chief fire officer did not even receive this letter. It’s only after the incident that the chief fire officer got to know that something like this has been cleared," he added.
Meanwhile, Shirish Dubey, the Additional District Magistrate who gave the permission for the fair, has shrugged off all responsibility.
According to him, it was not his job to give clearances for civic amenities.
"Fire safety is the responsibility of the chief fire station officer. Various departments are responsible for their respective functions. Our responsibility was to ensure that no criminal activity is undertaken by the organisers of the trade fair and their activities do not have an adverse effect on the city," he said.
The fire is believed to have been sparked off by a short circuit at one of the stalls, and was fuelled by the plastic matting on the floor.
The inflammable covering in the air-conditioned hall also helped the flames spread to the other two halls.
The tent in which the fair was being held had a common entry and exit point, making it difficult for the people to escape when the fire spread.
The situation worsened when the gas cylinders inside the pandals burst.
Many families are still anxious to receive word of their relatives who were present at the fair.
"They are not letting us inside the hospital. There aren’t enough facilities for their treatment. We are not being told how our relatives are," said a local.
"We have searched all over Meerut in different hospitals, but we cannot find my sister-in-law," said another.
Others, who have been able to identify the dead bodies of their loved ones, are seeking solace in at least being able to give them a decent burial.
But no amount of reassurance and investigation by the authorities can offer true condolence to the families, who feel the guilty should be brought to book for jeopardising so many lives. (With PTI inputs)