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West Bengal govt, BJP tussle over tent collapse at Modi rally

Saffron party threatens to move Calcutta High Court against state police, state PWD for alleged negligence.

Statesman News Service | Midnapore |

The blame game continued over the tent collapse during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Midnapore College ground, with the state government and the BJP trying to foist responsibility on each other for the mishap.

The central agencies, including the Special Protection Group (SPG) and secretaries of the Union home ministry, who held meeting with the district police administration over the matter for several hours on Tuesday, expressed dissatisfaction on the steps taken by the state government’s Public Works Department (PWD) while issuing fitness certificate for the stages meant for the Prime Minister.

The BJP on Wednesday said that the party would file a police complaint against the state PWD for “negligence in duty”, BJP state vice-president Subhas Sarkar said  on Wednesday. The saffron party’s decision came a day after the police filed a case against the West Bengal BJP unit, which is the organiser of the rally, and a decorator who had erected the pandal at the venue of the Prime Minister’s rally, for “extreme negligence of duty”.

According to the officials, the central agencies highlighted the norms of the ‘Blue Book’ which the PWD officials did not follow. According to the norms, any stage, tent, dais or any temporary structure to be used by the Prime Minister in any of his public meetings would first be stress-tested by an engineer for structural stability and then certified by fire department before being used.

The government has brought an amendment to the Blue Book, which lays down protocols for protection of the Prime Minister. “With increasing incidents of dais collapse, the government has become aware of the additional security issues the Prime Minister can face. Now, it would be mandatory for a temporary structure to be first tested by a qualified engineer of Public Works Department (PWD) and then certified for structural stability in writing. The structure would also be examined and then certified by the fire department before the PM’s public appearance,” the official said.

The executive engineer of PWD, however, claimed that they had examined the two daises, one for the PM and another one for other dignitaries as per the norms of the ‘Blue Book’ and certified them. Other makeshift tents which were erected for the audience were not examined by them as these were not under their purview.

A retired IPS officer said: “Till now, the SPG team would take over the entire area before the Prime Minister’s visit but would check only for security issues, not such structural stability issues.” .

According to sources in Nabanna, “since it was the programme of the Prime Minister, the National Security Guard (NSG) was in charge of the venue for seven days before the programme”. A senior official at Nabanna said: “As NSG was looking after the security aspect, the state government had hardly anything to do”.

Amidst this situation, a Midnapore resident lodged a complaint with regard to the tent collapse, accusing the ‘decorator, organisers and unknown persons’ of several crimes, including culpable homicide, which the local police converted into an FIR. A few hours later, the state BJP threatened to move Calcutta High Court against the state police for alleged lapses and negligence.

BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu said the state unit was sending a report to the Prime Minister’s office regarding the administrative lacunae. “We will file a case against the state administration’s negligence,” he said.

“The police also failed to control the mob. When the tent collapse d, the policemen did nothing. It was the BJP workers who rescued the supporters,” the BJP state vicepresident said on Wednesday.

Mr Sarkar alleged that the police baton-charged BJP activists at the venue to control them and that led to the accident. “The police could have controlled the crowd in a proper way. Instead, they resorted to lathi charge which resulted in many BJP supporters climbing the makeshift marquee and it collapsed,” he said.

A high-level central team is in Midnapore to assess the circumstances that led to the tent collapse during Prime Minister’s rally on Monday, which left around 100 people injured.

The central team comprising joint secretary of home ministry Anita Bhatnagar and two senior SPG officers, S K Singh and M Siddhi, arrived here on Tuesday afternoon. The sources said the central team met West Midnapore district magistrate, police superintendent, health officials of the district as well as the superintendent of Midnapore Medical College and Hospital, where the injured were admitted.