JHABUA: Protesters today heckled Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan near the site of the massive blast that left 89 people dead as anger spilled onto the roads in Petlawad town, while the main accused who allegedly had BJP links evaded arrest for storing mining explosives.
A reward of Rs one lakh was announced for information leading to the arrest of Rajendra Kasawa, the absconding accused, by the Chief Minister as his administration came under scanner over allowing storage of explosives in a crowded residential area.
Chouhan and his Cabinet colleague Antar Singh Arya faced the wrath of slogan-shouting locals who blocked their path at the new bus stand square close to the site of the tragedy.
Gauging the public anger, the two leaders squatted on the ground after being gheraoed and gave a hearing to the protesters for more than 15 minutes before leaving for the mishap site, eyewitnesses said.
Chouhan, who visited the mishap site and also went door-to-door meeting the affected families, said he will stay put in Petlawad to oversee relief work till "normalcy is restored" but later returned to Bhopal as he was advised against night stay in the town due to public anger over the incident.
He said family members of the deceased will get assistance of Rs 5 lakh instead of Rs 2 lakh announced earlier and employment will be given to their kin.
"I will return tomorrow to Petlawad and meet the family members of the deceased at 17 remaining places," he later added.
Protesters, including Congressmen, came out on the roads in large numbers shouting slogans against the state government and district administration, alleging that it had not taken appropriate steps to prevent the tragedy and demanded stern action against officials for the lapse, eyewitnesses said.
The protesters also shouted slogans demanding sacking of District Collector Aruna Gupta and also allegedly manhandled the area's Sub-Divisional Officer of Police (SDOP) A R Khan, who tried the clear the way for the Chief Minister.
Police carried out searches at some places to nab Rajendra Kasawa, who had stored the huge pile of explosives for mining work in a building which triggered off a series of explosions yesterday. After the explosion yesterday, Kasawa and his family members fled from their residence.
"We have booked Kasawa under IPC section 304 (man slaughter or punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and section 3 (punishment for causing explosion likely to endanger life and property and section 4 (punishment for attempt to cause explosion, or for making or keeping explosive with intent to endanger life and property) of Explosive Substances Act yesterday," Petlawad Sub-Divisional Officer of Police A R Khan told PTI.
Demanding a CBI probe, Congress alleged that he was was allowed to store explosives in a busy area against the rules as he was the district head of BJP's Vyapar Mandal and accused Chouhan of "complete abuse and misuse of power".
Chouhan said the state government has launched a drive to ensure that the explosives for mining works are not stored in public areas even as it was reported that a large number of people were in possession of licenses to stockpile mining explosives.
According to Channalal Gehlot (55), a resident of Bamniya village close to Petlawad town, he had lodged a complaint with former Jhabua Collector B Chandreshkar regarding the illegal storage of explosives by Kasawa in his shop in public area close to new bus stand on October 13 last year.
When contacted, Chandreshkar, who is now Collector of Ratlam district, said he could not recall any such complaint.
"I am not aware of any such complaint regarding Kasawa during my stint as Jhabua collector," Chandreshkar told PTI over phone.
Asking the Chief Minister what action he has taken against the culprits, Congress alleged that Madhya Pradesh under his rule is turning into a "multi-killings and multi-deaths state" and cited the Vyapam scam.
State Congress chief Arun Yadav demanded that a CBI probe be ordered in the explosion. After visiting the blast site in Jhabua, Yadav alleged that Kasawa was an RSS and BJP man and that he had been booked some years back for storing explosives unlawfully in Jhabua.
Interacting with media at Petlawad, Chouhan earlier said, "I will stay here till normalcy is restored and oversee the relief work myself. I will stay here tomorrow and day after tomorrow and after that if the situation demands and meet every family affected by the tragedy."
He said the state government will request the MP High Court to appoint a sitting judge to probe the explosion.
"Guilty will be punished at all cost and no one is going to be spared," he assured.
Saturday, he said, turned out to be the "saddest day of his life" and pledged to firmly stand by the families of the victims in their hour of grief.
At least 89 people were killed and nearly 100 injured after a massive blast caused by mining explosives stored in a building ripped through a crowded area in Petlawad town.
The blast completely destroyed at least two buildings --one in which explosive material for digging wells was stored and an adjacent restaurant, and damaging several houses.