PATNA: A suspended BJP leader who had allegedly mowed down nine school children under the wheels of his SUV in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur in a drunken condition five days ago surrendered himself before police in the wee hours of Wednesday and was hospitalised for the injuries he had sustained.
Manoj Baitha, who was suspended from the party for the tragic incident that occurred in Muzaffarpur district on Saturday, had been on the run since, prompting the Opposition RJD to accuse the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government of protecting him. A Bolero car that Baitha, who served as general secretary of BJP’s Sitamarhi district unit, was driving at breakneck speed had run over a group of schoolchildren crossing a highway, killing nine of them on the spot and leaving ten others badly injured.
“The accused surrendered himself before the SP of Muzaffarpur and was taken into custody. Since he was injured in the mishap, he was hospitalised,” said Bihar ADG (headquarters) SK Singhal. He said all angles of the incident were being probed and that the case would be put through speedy trial.
Baitha was brought straight to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) as police feared admitting him at any hospital in Muzaffarpur could lead to the angry local residents attacking him there, said sources. Rajiv Kumar, a relative of Baitha, said at PMCH that Baitha was not in a drunken condition during the accident. “He has always been a teetotaller,” he said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar spoke on the incident for the first time in his speech in the Assembly on Wednesday, describing the mishap as “very saddening” and calling for stricter laws to cur road accidents in the densely populated state. He assured that the accused in the hit-and-run case would be punished as per law.
As Kumar was speaking, Opposition leader Tejaswi Yadav of RJD interrupted him a number of times and accused him of generalising and belittling the tragic incident. “You are twisting this case by your words. This is murder,” said Yadav, prompting sharp ridicule from Kumar.
“What we had alleged is coming true. BJP first denied there was any leader in the party named Manoj Baitha. The party then placed him under suspension. Now, after the influence of alcohol has left him, they allowed him to surrender,” said Yadav to journalists outside the Assembly.
RJD legislators trooped into the well of the House chanting slogans against the NDA government and accusing it of helping Baitha evade charges under the stringent prohibition law in the state. They demanded that both Kumar and deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi apologise for these acts and the road mishap.