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January 11, 2012

Overcrowding behind concert stampede deaths


January 11, 2012

OVERCROWDING in the venue and the single exit point acted as the catalyst for the stampede at Alhamra Cultural Complex, Gaddafi Stadium, which cost the lives of three innocent students. However, it is the responsibility of the district government to guard against any such circumstance as can lead to a catastrophe.
The initial inquiry report, prepared by the Punjab Home Department, said on Tuesday that the venue could accommodate 4,000 people while around 7,000 students were present at there when the incident occurred. Moreover, there was only one exit for the departure of 7,000 people, it said and added that the female students encircled the singers to get their autograph when someone spread a bomb hoax which led to a stampede. The only exit point further worsened the situation as hundreds of students were stuck there, the report concluded.
Police registered a case against the principal and security in-charge of the Punjab Group of Colleges, following deaths of three female students in the stampede. The case against the college principal, Agha Tahir Saleem, and security incharge, Major (retd) Saleem, was registered on the complaint of Naseem Abbas Malik, father of a 17-year-old victim Maheen.
Police handed over the bodies of the victims, Maheen, Farah Nawaz and Sadia, to their families after legal formalities. Maheen’s body was taken to her native town in Khanewal. The other two victims, Farah and Sadia hailed from Model Town and Awan Town, respectively. Maheen was survived by a brother and a sister while Farah Nawaz was number four among her five sisters.
In another development, the Alhamra Cultural Complex, Gaddafi Stadium has been closed, on the directions of the Punjab government, till the completion of the inquiry report.
The victims’ families did not allow the police to conduct postmortem on the bodies while the security in-charge gave different statements to the victims’ families and the police about the incident.
Eyewitnesses said

that a youth hurled a cracker at the jam-packed crowd which led to a stampede, resulting in the death of the three female students while many others received injuries. An eyewitness said Atif Aslam had just ended his performance when the girls tried to leave the venue after the event, someone closed the door. At this, a stampede started, resulting in deaths after girls started stumbling and getting crushed.
A female student said the stampede occurred when after the concert the students were forced to exit through a small door instead of the main gate. She said the massive presence of eve-teasers also aggravated the situation as security guards resorted to baton-charge to control the situation. But the situation went critical when a group of female students was struck there and some of the students fell down and three died of being crushed and many other received injuries, she added.
Another college girl said that the venue had a capacity of accommodating 5,000 people while the administration had distributed around 10,000 invitation cards.
The concert was attended by more people than the maximum capacity in the complex, a police officer said, adding that the concert of Atif Aslam and Arif Lohar subsequently turned into a tragedy. There were reportedly between 6,000 and 7,000 girls in the concert and the number was beyond the venue’s capacity.
The security in-charge, Saleem, claimed that the programme ended peacefully, however, a miscreant threw a cracker on the crowd which resulted in the stampede.
The victim girls’ parents alleged that the incident had taken place due to lack of security arrangements.
A senior police officer said that the incident would have been avoided if the security guards had not resorted to baton-charge. The Lahore police had provided force to the college administration for security purpose, he added.
The police claimed that no cracker was thrown on the crowd, but unwarranted baton-charge by the security guards led to the catastrophe.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also took notice of the incident and ordered an inquiry into it. The Home Department has submitted the initial inquiry report of the incident to the Punjab government. Ikramullah, Additional Secretary Judicial Home Department, has been appointed as inquiry officer. The officials of Home Department said that the inquiry team would examine all aspects of the incident, including negligence on the part of the college and the Alhamra Cultural Complex administration and reason behind the gathering more than the venue’s capacity.
A question yet to be answered, however, is that why was the venue crowded by double its capacity when it is responsibility of the district administration to ensure that such public gatherings are not overcrowded so that the likelihood of any untoward incident can be avoided.

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