Callous approach

Callous approach

The death of over 35 people in a stampede at the Allahabad railway station could have been averted if all aspects of the safety of pilgrims for the Kumbh mela had received adequate consideration. Kumbh mela is the country’s, in fact  the world’s, largest religious gathering and  several crore pilgrims are estimated to have attended it this year. A congregation of this size, though spread over weeks, needed foolproof preparations and crowd control arrangements at a number of places. The arrangements at the railway station for those returning from the mela proved inadequate. It is doubtful whether the infrastructure and facilities at the Allahabad station were enough to cope with the millions of pilgrims who passed  through it. The facilities should have been upgraded though such large crowds are present there only on special occasions.

But what caused the stampede, or worsened it, is thought to have been a lathi-charge by the police. Police men on duty in such gatherings should be specially trained to handle large crowds. Techniques which are used to disperse violent mobs may not be effective in controlling crowds in situations like this. The arrangements were so inadequate that it took a lot of time to find out the number of the dead and to give timely medical assistance to the injured people. Non-availability of immediate medical care is thought to have caused fatalities among some who were injured. Lack of co-ordination among various authorities and agencies responsible for making arrangements was also one reason for the mishap. This results in only passing the buck and a blame game. It has happened again, with the UP state  government faulting the railways and the railways blaming the government for the mishap.

Major tragedies have taken place every year at many pilgrim centres, small and big, in every part of the country. Stampedes caused the death of over 100 pilgrims at  Sabarimala in 2011 and  of over 200 persons in a temple in Rajasthan in 2008. But lessons and steps to avoid these mishaps in future are hardly learnt and implemented. Enquiries are instituted after the mishaps, as has been done now, but the reports do not receive official attention. Provision of adequate facilities for transport, accommodation and food and deployment of personnel trained in crowd management are important requirements to ensure the safety of pilgrims. Proper planning is not difficult because the special occasions when pilgrims throng the religious places are known in advance.

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