What was supposed to be a night of fun and revelry quickly morphed into a day of disaster for Kerala's Cochin University on Saturday night when a stampede broke out during a musical event, claiming four lives and injuring 60 others.
The disaster happened in the university's open-air auditorium that was set to host a music concert by popular playback singer Nikhita Gandhi. The authorities claim the venue could accommodate over 1,500 people. The entry for the show was on a pass basis as a means to control the crowd.
The gates to the auditorium opened by 5:30 pm and remained so until 7:30 pm. Hundreds of people, both students and local people, hung around the gates at this time. However, a sudden downpour around 7 pm forced those at the entrance to rush into the auditorium via the open gates.
Unknown to many, the gates led to 11 steps, a total depth of eight feet. Some of them stumbled on these steps and ended up being trampled upon by the crowd. According to the senior police officer, the auditorium was only 'partly full' at the time of the stampede.
In the melee, over 65 were injured, of which four succumbed to death. Two others admitted to a private hospital in Kochi are in critical condition.
However, there are also reports that the organisers failed to put up enough safety measures, despite the college being the first in the country to start a BTech in Safety and Fire Engineering programme in 2003. It is unclear as to whether police or security officials were posted at the venue to manage the crowd. It was reportedly students who were entrusted with the task of managing the crowd.
However, University Vice-Chancellor PG Sankaran told the media that the university had informed the police about the event but most of the police personnel were busy with an ISL match happening in Kochi.
Besides, the auditorium is said to only have had a single entry and exit point. “The exit and entry through the same gate led to the stampede," municipal councillor Pramod told Manorama.
"The entry to the programme was restricted to ticket holders. However, several local residents were also outside the auditorium during the musical show," an eyewitness told the media.
(With inputs from Nirmal Jovial)