The timing for the Maharashtra Bhushan award event in Kharghar in Navi Mumbai, in which 13 persons died due to sunstroke, was suggested by awardee Appasaheb Dharmadhikari, said state minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sudhir Mungantiwar on Monday.
Thirteen people died and several others are hospitalised due to sunstroke and other health complications after several lakh people, mostly followers of Dharmadhikari, attended the event under the scorching summer sun in the sprawling International Corporate Park on Sunday.
The state government has come under severe criticism from the opposition parties as well as netizens for holding the event in such a grand scale in the morning neglecting the oppressive summer conditions.
Speaking to a regional news channel, Mungantiwar said, “Appasaheb Dharmadhikari had given us the timing and the event was planned accordingly. Politics should not be brought into everything.”
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Ambadas Danve sought the resignation of Mungantiwar since the event was organised by the state cultural affairs department, of which the latter is minister.
"A case of culpable homicide must be registered against the organisers. The state government spent nearly Rs 15 crore for this event. The minister must resign due to the poor organisation of the event. This is a blot on the state's reputation," Danve, who is leader of opposition (LoP) in the Legislative Council, said.
Earlier in the day, Shiv Sena (UBT) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut had alleged the event was held in the morning for the convenience of Union Home Minister Amit Shah for political gains. Shah had left for Goa on Sunday afternoon where he addressed a rally that kicked off the BJP's 2024 Lok Sabha campaign in the coastal state.
Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole had sought a case of culpable homicide against the "inhuman" Eknath Shinde government over the deaths at the Kharghar event. Incidentally, in a press statement issued a day after the event, Dharmadhikari had said the deaths were "painful".
"The death of people due to sunstroke is painful for me. I feel like having lost someone from my family. I expect this incident should not be politicised in any way," he said. "I am personally pained to see some people who are like my family members losing their lives due to sunstroke. It is like a calamity in my family. We all are together in this tragedy. The incident is very unfortunate," Dharmadhikari further said.
Dharmadhikari, 76, has a massive following in the state due to his tree plantation drives, blood donation and medical camps as well as de-addiction work in tribal areas conducted under the aegis of his organisation 'Shree Sadasya'.