Proper planning vital for crowd control

A deadly stampede at a Dasara celebration in Patna has claimed the lives of 33 people and left injured 28 others.

While an official probe into the stampede will establish what caused it, details emerging from the site of the tragedy indicate that as in several other stampedes in the past, little thought was given to controlling the crowd efficiently. 

This wasn’t a sudden crowding of people in the Gandhi Maidan but an organised event where over 50,000 people were participating.  It appears that word went around that a live electric wire had fallen on the ground.

It prompted thousands of panic-stricken people to run helter-skelter.  The stampede occurred on a narrow road leading out of the maidan. It appears that although there were several exits from the maidan, the police left just one – the road where the stampede occurred – open for the public to leave. It was another matter that the police had taken maximum care to usher the VIPs in through the main gate. Inadequate lighting made the situation worse. This was a recipe for disaster.

Stampedes are common in India especially in crowded places of worship, public processions and gatherings.  In many temples, for instance, entry and exit are through the same door. Often ropes or bamboo are used as barricades.

These collapse under the crush of crowds, causing people to fall and triggering stampedes.  Adding to poor infrastructure for regulating crowds are heavy-handed measures police take to hold back or quieten a panicky crowd. It is not surprising that most stampedes in India start with a person slipping or tripping and falling. And then all hell breaks loose.

The standard police response is to use the lathi freely, which only adds to the chaos. This was the case at the Patna stampede as well.  What prevented the Patna police authorities from using the public address system to counter rumours in the minutes before the stampede? An independent investigation is important not only to fix responsibility but also to list clearly mistakes that seem to be repeated with shocking frequency.

Obviously, the state administration has not learnt any lessons from the previous incidents as nothing seems to have improved in managing the crowd in the Bihar capital despite the earlier ghastly incidents. Six people had lost their lives at the same venue – Gandhi Maidan – in October last year while over 15 people were killed during Chhath celebrations on the banks of the Ganga in 2012 due to stampede.

Bihar politicians have only added to the victims’ misery by making irresponsible statements. Stampedes can be prevented but they require planning by authorities and co-operation and orderly conduct from the public.

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