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21 die in PM’s constituency
Stampede during distribution of sarees in Lucknow
Our Correspondent

Lucknow, April 12
“It was Mr Lalji Tandon’s birthday, but we received ‘death’ as a gift,” said Ketaki Devi, whose mother-in- law was among 21 women who died in a stampede during free distribution of sarees in a function organised to celebrate senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon’s birthday today.

District Magistrate of Lucknow Aradhana Shukla told mediapersons that 21 women died in the stampede, but she refused to give numbers of injured persons. The hospital sources claimed that over 28 women were injured in the melee.

Ketaki, resident of Gujaria, sub-urban area of Lucknow, had come with her mother-in-law and eight neighbours to attend the birthday celebration of Mr Tandon. They were told that free sarees would be distributed among the poor.

“Over 10,000 persons were in the park. It was choc-a-bloc with people. Though we reached late we were able to secure position in the third row,” Ketaki said, with tears flowing down her cheeks.

“Women were pushing and jostling. Someone among the organisers even asked the women in the back to have patience. There were enough sarees for everyone. But I do not know what happened next. It seemed a wave of people came forward and crushed us. We shouted. We were gasping for breath. I was lucky to breakaway from the group leaving behind my mother-in law,” she said.

Ketaki’s mother-in-law Gulabo Rani was taken to Civil Hospital where she was declared brought dead.

Distribution of free sarees during Mr Tandon’s birthday is a routine. Every year clothes are being distributed free among the poor. Even today newspapers carried advertisements declaring free distribution of sarees among the poor and the downtrodden.

Mr Tandon, though termed the incident as painful, but refused to take its responsibility. “The function was being organised by a samiti. I went there around noon and distributed a few sarees as token to a few women and then I left. At that time, the crowd, which was between 10,000 and 15,000, was well-behaved. All this happened after I had left the place,” he said.

“I am not responsible for this incident,” he said. “The administration should find out itself as who was responsible for the incident,” he said.

Senior Superintendent of Police Rajiv Ranjan Verma said no permission was sought by the organisers to hold a function of this magnitude. “Police force at the site was not adequate to control such a mammoth crowd,” he said.

Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was out of Lucknow addressing election meetings, has rushed back to Lucknow. An enquiry has been ordered into the incident. Lucknow commissioner D.C. Lakha will hold the enquiry.

Mr Lakha said those responsible for the lapse would be punished.

The function was being held in a small Chandrashekhar Park, situated in the heart of the city. The park has only one gate — used for exit and entry purposes. A makeshift tent was erected at the site to protect the people from the scorching sun as the temperature hovered around 40°C.

Ram Prasad Chaurasia, who runs a cigarette kiosk in a corner of the park, told this reporter that as the stampede started, a portion of the tent fell on women who were trying to come out of the park. “They probably died of asphyxia,” he said.

Two hours after the incident, there was a deafening silence in Chandrashekhar Park. Thousands of white bundles, carrying sarees meant for distribution, were stacked at the corner of the stage, from where Mr Tandon had distributed a few sarees a few hours earlier.

Rubber chappals of different sizes, shapes and colours were strewn all around. 


Saree distribution violates model code: Jethmalani
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 12
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prominent opponent from Lucknow, Mr Ram Jethmalani, said that today’s stampede tragedy at a saree-distribution function in the constituency was “a blatant act of bribery” and a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.

Mr Jethmalani who filed his nomination from the Lucknow constituency as an Independent at noon today, told TNS in a telephonic interview, that Mr Vajpayee’s re-election bid “will not be a cakewalk”.

While he maintained that he did not want to cook political “naans” on the pyre of dead people, Mr Jethamalani said, “Here it is: the PM’s constituency, the PM’s main election agent (Mr Lalji Tandon) distributing sarees to voters on his birthday. It is a blatant, flagrant act of bribery, trying to influence voters during the course of election campaign. What morality is left in public life?”

Asked whether he would be making the stampede tragedy as an issue, Mr Jethmalani said, “I don’t want to politicise this tragedy. Whatever legal action is possible there, I will take to ensure that the next of kin of the victims get some sort of relief.”

Mr Jethmalani asked some searching questions, which though he did not say so, may indicate an impending litigative fallout in the tragedy.

Mr Jethmalani’s questions are as follows:

* Whether a proper permission was obtained by organisers from competent authorities for holding the function?

* Whether the structures put up at the function venue were supervised by any authorities, and if yes, whether any certificate to that effect was issued?

* Whether any criminal case has been registered against the organisers by name as causing death by negligence is an offence? 


Women’s body for action against BJP leader
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 12
The All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) today said that the Election Commission ought to take action against BJP leader Lalji Tandon for violating the model code of conduct by distributing sarees at a public function organised by his party in Lucknow.

Expressing deep shock and sorrow at the death of 21 women and injuries to 50 women in a stampede at the function, AIDWA president, Subhashini Ali said in a statement here on Monday that the function was illegal as it was held on an area where Section 144 had been imposed.

AIDWA has demanded immediate action against the organisers of the function who are responsible for this tragedy and the arrest of Mr Lalji Tandon.

In a statement issued here on Monday, AIDWA has said, “The function shows a cynical and inhuman manipulation of the increasing poverty that haunts the majority of women in our country. Far from the make belief ‘feel good’ world of the BJP, poor women are desparately in need of even a single saree, which is why they were at that function in such numbers.”

AIDWA general secretary, Brinda Karat who is in Kanpur to campaign for CPM candidate, Subhashini Ali told TNS that she planned to visit the injured women in the hospitals in Lucknow.

Ms Karat said that they have asked their 23 state units to observe a nationwide condolence day.

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