The stepwell roof collapse at a temple in Madhya Pradesh's Indore, which claimed the lives of 36 people on Thursday, 30 March, was allegedly a result of the 'illegal expansion' and inaction by local authorities, alleged residents of the area.
The Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal Temple, located in the Sneh Nagar locality of Indore, is managed by a private trust. Local residents told The Quint that they had raised complaints about the temple's "unchecked expansion" 20 years ago with the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC), but the body failed to take any action.
The floor of the temple collapsed on Ram Navami, causing the devotees gathered on the premises to fall into the stepwell underneath. According to reports, there were at least a hundred devotees at the temple when the incident occurred.
An Expansion Gone Wrong?
Local residents say that two decades ago, when the temple was being expanded, the authorities did not fill up the stepwell. Instead, iron nets were laid on top of it and it was cemented. The cemented layer was then covered using tiles.
But as the stepwell was hollow, it was hardly fit to bear the weight of a hundred people, residents said.
A local resident, on the condition of anonymity, told The Quint that the politicians and authorities who failed to take timely action against the expansion were equally responsible for the mishap.
"When they were taking up the structure's expansion back then, the colony members opposed it. But they were attacked. And no action was taken due to political interference," the resident said.
'Notice Could Hurt Religious Sentiments'
In April 2022, after the residents raised yet another complaint, the IMC issued a notice to the temple authorities over the "illegal construction."
The temple committee responded to the notice saying that there was no illegal construction and warned that the notice could hurt "religious sentiments."
"An atmosphere of unrest and fear has arisen among the nearby residents and Hindus, due to which there is a possibility of religious sentiments getting hurt," the response read.
The IMC, on 30 January this year, issued another notice – a copy of which has been accessed by The Quint – directing the temple authorities to remove all illegal constructions within seven days. Neither did the committee take measures to remove encroachments nor did the IMC take any follow-up action.
The local BJP councillor Mridul Agarwal, while responding to a question by the media, said that complaints were raised by residents and that the IMC had issued notices to the temple committee.
"I am the new councillor but the locals had complained previously. Action was being taken and the municipal corporation issued notices as well," he said.
Case Against Temple Committee
The Indore Police have registered a case of unintended murder against the president and secretary of the temple committee.
"A case under section 304 (Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide) has been registered against the president and secretary of the temple committee," Makrand Deoskar, Commissioner of Indore Police, said.
Meanwhile, the authorities have also been accused of delaying the rescue operation.
A purported video of the incident shows a woman being pulled up from the stepwell using a rope tied to her left hand. A man supporting her is then seen falling down with her as the rope breaks.
Several residents alleged to The Quint that the rescue operations began late and that timely action could have saved more lives.
Speaking to The Quint, another resident, Sanjeev Agarwal, claimed: "The Municipal Corporation did not have a pump to drain the water out of the well, they did not have a ladder. The rescue teams also arrived very late. It took them several hours to rope in the army despite them being stationed merely 20-22 kilometres from here, in Mhow."
(The Quint has reached out to the Indore Municipal Corporation. The copy will be updated with their response.)