One and a half years after 27 people were crushed to death at the Pushkar Ghat on the banks of the River Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, the one-man commission appointed to investigate the incident is yet to submit a report.
Stating that the submission of evidence from the government and the victims was completed on Saturday, during the last hearing of the Justice CY Somayajulu Commission, The Hindu reported that the commission, which was supposed to submit its report on Sunday, has requested the government for an extension.
This is the fourth time that the commission has sought an extension.
The Commission was constituted in September 2015 to probe the incidents leading up to the mishap in July that year, which led to the deaths.
It was widely reported that crowds had started building up on the first day of the Godavari Pushkaram at the Pushkar Ghat, but were held back, as Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu took a holy dip first with his family and close aides, for over an hour.
It was also reported that Naidu was filming with a crew of National Geographic, which resulted in him taking a long time to finish his holy dip at the Ghat.
As Naidu and his security left, the gates were opened, following which a large crowd tried to squeeze through a narrow area, resulting in the stampede.
Most of those who died were elderly women.
(Naidu visiting victims of the stampede at the hospital. PTI image)
Two days after the stampede, a report written by East Godavari district collector H Arun Kumar and forwarded to the Union Home ministry and State Human Rights Commission, triggered off a controversy, after it tried to blame the crowds for breaching barricades.
"Heavy influx of pilgrims started increasing as time passed by and at around 8:30 am and the crowd from all directions started breaching the barricades set up for crowd control," it stated.
However, the report also noted that, "Chief Minister along with other VIPs and other VVIPs took the first holy dip in the river Godavari at about 6:26 am in the Pushkar Ghat."
Many questioned the two hour period between 6.30 am and 8.30 am that Naidu was at the Ghat for, even as a separate VIP Ghat had been set up for security reasons.
YSRC party chief Jagan Mohan Reddy had called it “a gimmick and publicity stunt” on the part of the Chief Minister to have taken a dip at the Pushkar Ghat instead of the VIP Ghat."
Following a lot of outrage, the commission was formed, and given six months to complete the probe.
Following the expiration of the commission's term on March 29, 2016, Justice Somayajulu asked for, and was granted, two extensions of three months each.
A year after the incident, he asked for a third extension, which was also granted.
The deadline since the third extension ended on January 29, but the commission has deferred its report yet again.
During the hearing on Saturday, advocate Muppala Subba Rao who appeared on behalf of the victims, alleged that the CCTV footage that was submitted to the commission was yet to be made public. He also alleged that the National Geographic footage which was submitted to the commission, was tampered with beforehand.
Stating that a chargesheet was yet to be filed, he claimed that the state was intentionally delaying the submitting of the report, to save itself.