A one-man commission constituted to look into the Godavari festival stampede of 2015 exonerated the Andhra Pradesh government and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu of any responsibility, reported The New Indian Express on Wednesday. At least 29 people died in the stampede at Rajamahendravaram on July 14 that year.
The report of the Justice CV Somayajulu Commission, which was set up on September 15, 2015, was tabled in the state Assembly on Wednesday. It concluded that the stampede could have occurred due to overcrowding after “undue and unwarranted publicity” about the time the “pushkarams” or religious rituals of the festival began.
Naidu’s presence at the Pushkar Ghat was seen as one of the reasons that led to the stampede as massive crowds had collected in one place, moving forward once the gates of the ghat were opened. However, the report cited evidence to show that the stampede began after Naidu had finished inaugurating the event and entered his van.
According to the report, “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 shows that proper arrangements for ‘pushkarams’ were made”.
The commission took into account testimonies from the public and records submitted by several government departments and the district collector. However, it dismissed affidavits filed by lawyer Muppala Subbarao, president of the Human Rights Council, on the ground that they were filed to find fault with Naidu and “to gain publicity or with some other motive”.
While the report did not blame a lone person for the stampede, it accused the press of trying to promote their channels through the “pushkarams”. It added that an illogical belief about the importance of such religious rituals could have led to an increase in crowds at the ghat.
The main opposition, the YSR Congress Party, criticised the report and said that it appeared to have been prepared by the office of the chief minister rather than by a retired judge.