A sudden downpour led to the stampede on a Kerala campus fest that left four students dead and over 50 injured yesterday, police have said. The stampede took place ahead of singer Nikhita Gandhi’s performance at an open-air auditorium at Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) yesterday.
According to civic authorities and police officers, a single gate was being used for entry and exit to the open-air auditorium. The organisers were allowing entry in batches to those carrying passes. Outside the entry was a long queue of excited youngsters eager to get in. An eyewitness told the media that while entry to the concert was restricted to pass holders, many local residents had gathered outside the auditorium.
Senior police officer MR Ajith Kumar said the capacity of the auditorium was at least 1,000 and many seats were vacant at the time of the stampede. “When the incident took place, the programme had not started. The auditorium was not full. Organisers were checking passes and allowing entry in batches. Suddenly it started raining, people broke queues and started pushing to get in.”
“There were steps there, some people fell and others walked over them. That’s how four students died. This was a freak accident,” the officer said.The officer said the incident “should not have happened” as the auditorium had sufficient capacity. “This was the result of that sudden rush and push when it rained,” he said.
According to sources, another factor contributed to the tragedy. The organisers had reportedly announced that students of engineering would be allowed entry first. “The students of other streams were restless and eagerly waiting for their turn. When the rain started, they saw an opportunity to jump the queue and rushed in,” a source said.
NDTV found the steps near the open-air auditorium to be very steep and this may have caused some students to lose balance as they rushed.
Municipal Councillor Pramod has said that the fact that a single gate was being used for entry and exit also contributed to the incident.
The dead students have been identified as Athul Thambi, Ann Ruftha, Sara Thomas and Alwin Thaikattusherry. The condition of two of those injured is critical. Over 30 are in recovering in hospitals.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan chaired an emergency meeting of ministers last night. The ministers condoled the deaths. The Chief Minister has said Health Minister Veena George will coordinate necessary steps to ensure the treatment of those injured.
The events to mark Nava Kerala Sadas, an outreach programme of the ruling CPM, have been cancelled in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Singer Nikhita Gandhi, too, has expressed her condolences over the tragedy. “No words are possibly enough to express this profound grief. My prayers go out to the families of the students,” she said in a social media post.