Unchecked entry, jostling & non-working ACs at KK concert, say eyewitnesses

Unrestricted entry, non-working air-conditioners (ACs) and jostling in the crowd with no ventilation at the venue where many ended up falling in the melee and getting hurt. These are the first-person accounts of those who were among the audience at the Nazrul Manch auditorium in Kolkata where Bollywood singer KK performed soon before he died of suspected heart attack late Tuesday.

Krishnakumar Kunnath (53), better known as KK, was taken sick while performing at the annual festival of city-based Gurudas College.

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As is seen in the videos of the performance that surfaced on social media, the singer is seen wiping off sweat and even complaining of hot and humid condition inside the auditorium. Students are seen trying to barge into the auditorium and even climbing a wall to watch the performance.

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Ritojit Ghosh, a second year student at the University of Engineering and Management (UEM), Kolkata, who went to the concert with his friends, said the volunteers and police personnel who were managing the crowd were abusive and spoke harshly. They even threatened to beat the people standing in line with sticks.

“Since I am a high-blood pressure patient, I looked for a spot near the AC that stopped functioning after a while. The auditorium was jampacked and people had no sense of who they were pushing around. Many fell on the ground and got injured in the melee,” he added.

Imanjit Dutta, a third year student from Techno India College, said, “I reached the venue around 5:30pm and there was a commotion at the entrance. The police personnel didn’t even check our passes and let all in. Many people lost their wallets and mobile phones in the crowd. Last day, Vivekananda College had organised the event in a more systematic manner.”

A third-year college student from Bhubaneswar who did not wish to be named said, “It was right before the performance that a large crowd arrived at the venue suddenly. The air-conditioning system was not working properly and all my friends and I were sweating profusely. I feel the lack of security at Nazrul Manch made it easier for people to barge in . I didn’t see any help desk or first-aid unit in case of medical emergency.”

Dr Kunal Sarkar, a noted surgeon, said, “The venue was overcrowded and there were some issues with air-conditioning that led to rise in temperature. Then fire extinguisher was sprayed on some unruly audience. Finally, two precious hours were lost before he was taken to hospital.”

Kolkata Police, which have registered a case of unnatural death, said they were “scrutinising CCTV footage to understand what happened before KK was taken to the hospital”.

Also, officials of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), which runs Nazrul Mancha, visited the auditorium for inspection.

Meanwhile, Opposition parties in West Bengal raised questions over alleged mismanagement at the venue of the concert, claiming that overcrowding may have played a role in the vocalist’s death.

In a tweet, Leader of Opposition in Assembly Suvendu Adhikari questioned as who was responsible for the singer’s death. The BJP leader wondered whether it was the administration’s failure after having given permission for the show and then not making “appropriate security arrangements”. “How come audiences, triple the capacity of the venue, were allowed to enter without entry passes? This led to the failure of air-conditioning. Or was it the organisers, the so-called Trinamool Congress student wing leaders who instigated the crowd and threw open the gates,” he said.

“When things went out of control, people were sprayed with fire extinguishers. Thankfully a stampede didn’t take place. Disastrous consequences were possible. An impartial probe must be conducted by an agency to find out who is actually guilty (sic),” he added.

BJP national secretary Anupam Hazra demanded arrest of the show organisers. “Those who organised the show should be arrested for killing a popular and versatile singer by letting him in a suffocating auditorium. It must be found out what was the auditorium capacity and how many were given entry. It must also be ascertained what was the oxygen level inside the venue,” Hazra said in a Facebook post.

Senior Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury also demanded an inquiry into the incident. “The situation at Najrul Mancha during the performance raises many unsavoury questions,” added Chowdhury.

State minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim admitted that there were more people at Nazrul Mancha than it could accommodate. “But everything was fine at the venue. KK was so popular that the young crowd went crazy. Even our officials were saying that Nazrul Mancha should not be rented out for college festivals as students tend to jump on chairs and break them,” said Hakim.

TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh slammed the Opposition parties for trying to politicise an “unfortunate” incident. “The BJP should stop its vulture brand of politics. They should stop politicising deaths. We won’t be surprised if BJP starts claiming that KK was their party leader,” said Ghosh.

KK’s manager Hitesh Bhat said that nothing untoward happened during the show. “Once the performance was over, he went to the hotel where he was staying. But as soon as he entered his room, he fell down. I was with him all the time. He was completely fine during the show. He got into his car (after the performance) and he was feeling cold,” Bhatt told reporters.

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