VIJAYAWADA:Justice CY Somayajulu Commission, which inquired into the Godavari Maha Pushkaram stampede that claimed 29 lives at Rajamahendravaram on July 14, 2015, gave a clean chit to Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, and the State government apparatus and concluded that the tragedy might have occurred due to overcrowding caused by “undue and unwarranted publicity” for the “Muhurtam” of the onset of Pushkarams.
The one-man commission was constituted on Sept 15, 2015 to inquire into the circumstances that led to the stampede, shortcomings, if any, in making arrangements for the Pushkarams and if so, persons responsible for the same.
The report was tabled in the Assembly on Wednesday.
The 17-page report went with the submissions of the district collector and other officials that adequate arrangements were made for the mega event and dismissed the affidavits filed by advocate and president of the Human Rights Council Muppalla Subbarao -- incidentally the only one to have submitted affidavits to the panel on time -- as intended only to find fault with the Chief Minister.
State played role of religious organisation: Report
In the immediate aftermath of the stampede, the Chief Minister was accused of causing it indirectly by spending a lot of time at the Pushkar Ghat that resulted in sudden surge of a large crowd once the ghat gates were opened. However, the commission concluded that the evidence showed the stampede began after the Chief Minister boarded his van after inauguration of the river festival. Surprisingly, the report found that “the fact that the Chief Minister extended his stay for the entire period of Pushkarams and monitored the conduct of Pushkarams, and no other incidents took place anywhere in the area showed that proper arrangements were made for Pushkarams.”
The report further observed that “the affidavits (submitted by the advocate and representations made by others, including former MP Undavalli Arun Kumar, were filed with a view of finding fault with the Chief Minister but not to know the exact cause of the stampede and to gain publicity or with some other motive.” To buttress its argument, the commission pointed out, “The fact that Subbarao was the only person who sent his affidavit to me, though wide publicity was given and his appearance with a number of people ... filing stereotyped affidavits and his conversing with the press ... and his roping in of Undavalli ... showed that this was an attempt to gain publicity.”
The report did not find merit in the contention of Subbarao and others that the Chief Minister had requisitioned the services of film director Boyapati Srinu and the National Geographic Channel to make a documentary on the inaugural of Pushkarams to “quench his thirst for publicity”.
“It may not be relevant in deciding the question whether the Chief Minister inaugurating the Pushkarams at Pushkar Ghat was the cause of the stampede because even as per the affidavits submitted by Subbarao and others and even the video clippings showed the stampede took place after the Chief Minister finished his bath and went into his van,” it said.
The commission further mentioned that the contemporary situation revealed that the parties who are not in power, or the parties who are not friendly or who are at loggerheads with the ruling party or their leaders, seize any and every opportunity or event, calamity or untoward incident, resort to mudslinging and always try to find fault with the ruling party leaders. “They become intolerant even to a single lapse. All these persons, who submitted affidavits to me, do not appear to be actual eyewitnesses to the incident,’’ the commission reported.
The report, without directly pointing out any lapses on the part of the government, said that the government “assumed the role of a religious organisation and people of the State were welcomed for Pushkarams in large numbers.”
“The event to promote Brand Godavari, with one year of prior planning and with an estimated expenditure running into `1,500 crore was contemplated. Logo was selected from about 200 entries. About 275 ghats were developed in twin Godavari districts. The idea was not to confine the river festival to the twin Godavari districts, but to promote it in all 13 districts, neighbouring States and across North India, besides reaching out to Indian diaspora. The State government started a high decibel media campaign for this purpose as early as in 2014. The grand opening ceremony, laser shows and huge display of sky lanterns were instrumental in the mega marketing of this spiritual event,’’ the report read.
The commission did not hold a single person responsible for the stampede and instead sought to blame the electronic media saying that it tried to encash the opportunity presented by Pushkarams to promote their channels. “The media, which became an important instrument of publicity for promotion of products and personalities, had brought its own share of misery and inconvenience to the public at large,’’ the report said.