Friday, 10 April 2015

India: Revisiting the Victoria Park inferno of 2006 in Meerut

It is exactly nine years since the fire broke out at the consumer electronics fair at Victoria Park in Meerut, claiming 64 lives. "I still remember that day. My parents and aunt had gone to the fair at Victoria Park. My brother and I were at home. It was a trip that just happened without a lot of planning - they wanted to go to the jewellery market but then thought of visiting the fair. I wish I had hugged them before they left, the last time. My aunt escaped with some burn injuries, but my parents never returned," says 15-year-old Vaishnavi Gupta, who was just six when the fire broke out on April 10, 2006.

Sadly, Vaishnavi's younger brother Devyansh, who was four at the time of the tragedy, died in a road accident a year later. She is now the sole survivor in the family, taken care of by grandparents.

Nine years after the incident, a one-man commission of Justice SB Sinha probes the matter, on instructions from the Supreme Court.

Naresh Tayal, whose parents died in the fire, says, "It was the last day of the fair. My parents were keen on purchasing some electronic products available there at a discount. My wife and I and our two kids and my parents arrived at the fair at around 5pm. The fire only started at around 5:30 pm, but soon as we arrived, I started feeling suffocated."

He said he took his wife's hand and led her out, along with their kids. "There was only one small exit gate, and only one person could emerge at a time. The place was so crowded, I could not find my parents. I had told them to follow us and get out of the place, but I guess they did not hear me. The moment we came out of the pandal, the fire started. All I remember now is that the next thing I saw was my father's dead body," he says. He never got his mother's body - he suspects it was exchanged with some other body.

The bodies recovered from the site were all charred beyond recognition. There was so much chaos, and some people carried bodies, in order to claim compensation.

Interestingly, only after the struggle of Sanjay Gupta, who lost five members of his family in the incident, did the Supreme Court order a total compensation of Rs 5.42 crore to all victims. That amount was distributed in December 2014.

Nineteen-year-old Jagat Singh says, "I was 10 when my father died in that incident. I was so shocked, I was in no position to continue studies; besides, money became hard for the family. I have started my own business now. I hope the culprits get the punishment they deserve."

Friday 10 April 2015


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