Thirty-six people were killed when a structure at a temple in Madhya Pradesh's Indore collapsed yesterday. The stepwell roof at the Beleshwar Mahadev temple broke due to the sheer weight of the crowds on Ram Navami. A havan was being performed when the incident happened.
An NDTV investigation has revealed the tragedy could have been averted had the Indore Municipal Corporation acted on complaints filed by residents. The tragedy hit many families hard, with some losing more than one member.
Documents that NDTV accessed clearly show the temple area that collapsed was an illegal structure and the Indore Municipal Corporation had marked the cover of the stepwell for demolition last year.
But the municipal body had to back down after the temple trust warned them religious sentiments would be hurt.
NDTV has accessed one more letter issued by the then Indore Development Authority (IDA) chief in 1985 - a planning map of the area which has no mention of any temple. The map shows this area was to be developed as a children's park.
In 1985, the place where the temple is located was earmarked as "Sneh Vatika" for children under a scheme of the IDA by the then chief authority chief Harsh Mander.
The stepwell, however, is 200 years old. It was covered with four iron girders, a thin layer of concrete and tiles incapable of holding the weight of the crowd that gathered to offer puja on Ram Navami.
The walls had come up around the floor. A tin shed was set up as the roof of the temple. People gathered at Shri Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal temple for a havan (ritual) did not know that the ground beneath their feet hid a deep well amid rusty iron grills.
The Indore Municipal Corporation had given notice to the temple trust twice - in April 2022 and January 2023. In the second notice to the temple trust, the municipal body said its previous reply was "unacceptable".
"You have been directed to remove the complete construction in seven days of receiving this letter, else IMC (Indore Municipal Corporation) will remove the encroachment/illegal construction under Section 307 of the Municipal Corporation Act 1956 and under Section 7(3) of the Land Development Rules 2012," the municipal body said. It did not mention anything about the stepwell.
The temple trust again denied any illegal construction and alleged the authorities were trying to hurt religious sentiments.
Kishore Kodwani, who lives in the area, pointing at the crammed space, told NDTV, "Why was this shed was not removed? It would have easy to use a bulldozer... Most of the stepwells in this area have been covered. In fact one of the temples is inside a community hall built by the IMC itself. All these structures have political patronage. No official will dare to take action against them."
He said that as per government records, there are 1,153 community gardens in Indore, out of which 875 gardens were physically verified and it was found that there were 63 temples and 113 overhead water tanks of the IMC constructed on them.
Cabinet minister Tulsi Silawat told NDTV they have ordered a probe into the matter and are also looking at the municipal notice. "We have ordered an enquiry. Nothing can be so sad. If anyone has encroached upon any stepwell, we will take action. Nobody will be spared," the minister said.
A police case has been filed against two officials of the temple trust. Two municipal officials have been suspended for not removing illegal construction. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has also ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.