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Centre-UP Govt Spar Over Varanasi Blast

PTI 08 Dec 2010, 20:20:07 IST
Varanasi/Lucknow, Dec 8: The Centre and Uttar Pradesh government today sparred on the Varanasi terror attack with Home Minister P Chidambaram saying there was a specific advisory given on the possibility of a strike in one of the Ganga ghats but its utility  was contested by the state.

The state government also countered Chidambaram's remarks that there was "some laxity" on the part of authorities that led to yesterday's blast in Shitlaghat that killed a two-year-old girl and injured 31 others.

After a visit to the blast spot and the hospitals where he consoled the injured, Chidambaram told reporters that he had not not come to do a "jugalbandi" or blame anyone but asserted that the law and order was primarily the responsibility of the state.

"In fact, as far as UP is concerned, a specific advice was given on February 25, 2010 that the Dashashwamedh Ghat was one of the targets. So this area had been identified as a possible target in February 2010.

"I am not here to do a 'jugalbandi' to blame anyone but specific advisories were given.... It is for the government of UP to realise that it is first the responsibility of the state government to maintain law and order. Police and public order are state subjects," he said.

However, he added it would not be possible to give pin-point intelligence in advance about any incident.

He said on December 5, on the eve of the anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition, another advisory was given to remain on alert.

"I think the police made some arrangements. But I think what has happened is that because the 'arti' takes place every night throughout the year, there may have been some kind of laxity. One may have assumed that it has been peaceful for so many weeks and so many months and that it would remain peaceful.

Shortly later, UP Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh told a press conference in Lucknow that "there was no no specific actionable intelligence" from the Centre about possible terrorist activity in Varanasi and there was no no laxity on the part of the state police.

"Holding the state responsible is not not justified. There was no no specific actionable intelligence input regarding a terrorist act in Varanasi.

"Expecting that input to be specific and actionable even after Dusshera festival is not justified..... Stating that the state was alerted in advance is far from reality," Singh said.

He said that two "general alerts" were also issued regarding anniversaries of 26/11 Mumbai attacks and demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6.

"As a routine exercise, ghats where Ganga 'arti' is held is sanitised at 5 PM every day and this exercise was carried out yesterday as well. Thus, there was no laxity yesterday," Singh said.

Asking the Centre to rise above party politics, he said Mayawati has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding adequate security at important religious and tourist places in the state.

"The Chief Minister has requested the Prime Minister to provide 125 companies (12,500 personnel) of central forces so that a lasting arrangement could be made for security," he said.

On the security arrangements, Chidambaram said, "I think the police made some arrangements. But I think what has happened is that because the 'arti' takes place every night throughout the year, there may have been some kind of laxity. One may have assumed that it has been peaceful for so many weeks and so many months and that it would remain peaceful.

"I have always said there is no scope for relaxing the vigil. Unfortunately, despite the presence of the platoon, somebody was able to plant an IED in the Sheetla Ghat (close to Dashashwamedh Ghat). I think there is a lesson for the police. There is no question of relaxing the vigil on any day. Everyday is a new day," the Minister said.

Chidambaram, however, had a word of praise for the doctors treating the injured and said excellent medical facilities were provided to them.

He also lauded the people of the city for maintaining calm after the blast

"The attempt of terrorists is to disturb peace and they cannot succeed as long as the people remain peaceful and live in harmony," Chidambaram said, adding people of different communities live in peace and harmony in localities near the blast site as well.

Chidambaram said he was hoping and praying that the year would come to an end without any incident.

"Last three years have been relatively peaceful. After 26/11 in Mumbai, 2009 was completely free of any terror attack. In 2010, we have had one terrorists incident in Pune in February and I was hoping and praying that the year will come to any end without another incident but unfortunately we have had this incident yesterday."

The Minister, who arrived in Varanasi this morning, offered his "deep" regret and "sincere" condolences to all those who suffered especially to Santosh Kumar Sharma, whose daughter was killed as a result of the blast.

Chidambaram said forensic experts have already inspected the crime scene.

He said 31 injured were admitted to hospitals. "Nine were discharged after being given first aid. Of the 31, four are foreigners. Of the discharged two were foreigners."

The Minister said the next step was to ensure the patients are are provided proper treatment and compensation.

"We will take care of it when I go back to Delhi," he said.

On UP government's demand for additional forces, Chidambaram said security is a state matter and the Centre provides support only.

The state government has been provided with an additional battalion of security forces, while there is a CRPF battalion in Varanasi, he said.

Meanwhile, security agencies were examining CCTV footage of the blast at the Ganga ghat even as a forensic team from Agra collected samples from the spot.

Police barricaded the site of yesterday's explosion between the Dashashwamedh and Shitla ghats which was teeming with devotees during the time of Ganga 'arti', and people were not allowed to take a dip in the river. The main entrance to the Shitla temple has been closed.

At other ghats, the number of visitors has reduced considerably, police said. BJP has called for a bandh and shops were closed but normal life in the city was unaffected. PTI