CUSAT stampede: Principal, 2 teachers booked for causing death by negligence

Four people were killed and 60 were injured in the stampede before a musical festival in CUSAT's open-air auditorium last November.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jan 07, 2024 | 2:32 PMUpdatedJan 07, 2024 | 2:33 PM

The autonomous university has about 8,000 students, of which more than 4,000 are girls. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Kerala police have arraigned the former principal and two teachers of the School of Engineering at Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) in connection with the stampede that happened during an annual tech festival in November last year.

A senior police official told PTI that Section 304 A of the Indian Penal Code (causing death by negligence) has been invoked against Deepak Kumar Sahu, the former principal of the School of Engineering and two teachers of CUSAT.

Four people were killed and 60 were injured in the stampede that occurred before renowned singer Nikita Gandhi was to perform at a musical festival in the open-air auditorium of CUSAT.

Related: CUSAT stampede due to ‘some failure’, observes Kerala HC

‘Grave lapses’

The police said the former principal and some of the teachers were booked after a probe which revealed that there were grave lapses on their part.

Police have also submitted a detailed report in a local court mentioning the lapses.

Four people, including two women, were killed and 60 injured in the stampede that took place before renowned singer Nikita Gandhi was to perform at a musical festival in the open-air auditorium of CUSAT.

Of the four persons killed, three —Athul Thampi (23), Sara Thomas (19) and Ann Rifta Roy (20) — were students of the School of Engineering of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) and the fourth —Palakkad-based Alwin — an electrician who had ended up at the festival by chance.

The high court said while the incident appeared to be an accident, “it is more or less limpid (clear) that there was some failure”.

“This is affirmed by the respondents also. The authorities of the university had specific duties and responsibilities, particularly when congregations of students were to occur within the campus. The role of the police and security personnel also will, therefore, have to be looked into, not for this case alone, but as a guideline for the future, lest such accidents happen again, which is unthinkable,” the court said.

Related: Four families mourn the loss of their children

The incident

According to officials, the event was an annual festival, and it was held from 24 to 26 November last year. The musical event was organised in an auditorium with a capacity of 1,000 to 1,500 people.

The open-air auditorium on campus, located near the canteen and the Student Amenities Centre, was scheduled to hold a music concert by Nikhita Gandhi when the stampede occurred.

The event, which took place on the final day of the three-day annual Tech Fest, Dhishna, was ticketed. Those who had a gate pass received a black “Dhishna” T-shirt.

According to sources, the gates opened at 5:30 pm and invitees were told they would close at 7:30 pm.

However, at about 7 pm, severe rain lashed the campus, prompting many gathered outdoors to run into the nearby roofed auditorium. People went over the auditorium stairs during the uproar, causing the stampede, ADGP MR Ajithkumar told reporters.

According to the senior police officer, the auditorium — which has a single access and exit point and a capacity of 2,000 — was only “partly filled” during the rush.

Related: Expert committee to look into CUSAT stampede that killed 4

Crowd included people without passes

According to estimates, there were approximately 800 individuals inside the auditorium during the rush.

Reports said the crowd included those who did not have the passes. They had gathered outdoors to watch the event.

According to CUSAT Vice-Chancellor PG Sankaran, the institution had informed the police about the programme.

However, as Kochi was hosting a home game of the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League, most of the city’s police presence was concentrated in and around the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium at Kaloor.

“The exit and entry through the same gate had caused the stampede,” stated Municipal Kalamassery Councillor P Pramod. “As the students were trying to enter through the same gate, those who fell were stomped over by those who rushed in,” he explained.

VC Sankaran said around 2,500 students from the institution attended the programme on Saturday, 25 November. Residents and students from adjacent institutions were also present on the campus at the time of the disaster.

(With PTI inputs)