It was extremely unfortunate that 36 precious lives were lost at the Kumbh in Allahabad on the most holy day of the ‘Mouni Amavasya snan.’ That the deaths occurred not at the site of the Kumbh, but at the Railway station clearly indicates the tragedy was wholly preventable. Predictably, a shabby blame game has begun between the Uttar Pradesh government and the Railways. The truth is both sides must share the blame for this shocking mismanagement. Planning for proper crowd management cannot be confined to the Sangam, where some three crore people took the holy dip without any major catastrophe; careful thought should have gone into ensuring their orderly departure from the city by train or bus. With not enough trains to take away the lakhs of pilgrims converging at the station late in the evening, the crowds swelled around that area. Reports speak of two stampedes, one at 6.30 p.m. and another at 8.40 p.m. Eyewitnesses and the injured have said there was no place to stand and pilgrims were falling over each other. Finally, the pedestrian overbridge collapsed under the sheer weight of thousands of people fighting their way to the platforms to catch the next train. The delayed arrival and announcement of a train caused a feverish rush in opposite directions, leading to the stampede, collapse, and the deaths.
Uttar Pradesh’s Urban Development Minister and the Kumbh Mela committee chairman Mohammad Azam Khan might have put in his papers owning “moral responsibility” for the tragedy but that does not solve the problem or fix the blame. Of course, an inquiry will come up with some findings. The real question now is how to prevent a recurrence of such preventable tragedies. Law and order — of which crowd management is a major part — falls entirely within the jurisdiction of the State government. Why were so many people allowed to congregate at and within the Railway station without a proper crowd management system in place? But the railways also cannot evade responsibility. It was known that lakhs of pilgrims would have to leave Allahabad in public transport, especially trains. Did the Northern and North Central Railways operate enough trains to clear the projected traffic on the Amavasya day? Apparently, special trains ran empty after the stampede. Another distressing report pertained to the lack of adequate medical help. For hours, the dead and injured lay there without attention. Why was there no disaster response system in place? Surely, any inquiry must go into all these aspects, fix responsibility and lay down norms to manage such huge congregations of people.