What was supposed to be a pilgrimage turned out to be a nightmare for the 115 people who were killed and those injured in the stampede near the Ratangarh Mata temple in Datia, Madhya Pradesh. The suspension of top district officials is welcome but the move will have an impact on the way officials function in future, at least in the short term.
There should be foolproof security arrangement in temples and spots where huge crowds gather. A standard operating procedure — from the provision of separate entry and exit points, barricades to regulate surging crowds, and CCTVs at vantage points — should be in place. The district administration should coordinate with all the agencies responsible for the smooth conduct of the event.
Datia is not the first instance of deaths due to stampede. Similar incidents have taken place but no useful lesson has been learnt or corrective action taken to preclude such tragedies.
Large congregations call for pro-active action by the district administration and temple authorities. But such action is never taken and our leaders shed crocodile tears after a tragedy occurs. The need of the hour is to make sure that someone is held accountable for the loss of lives. Unless we have punitive measures in place, we will continue to hear of accidents caused by official apathy.
The immediate aftermath of such tragedies is the tendency of political parties to score brownie points over dead bodies. The administrative apparatus in India is still to come to grips with controlling large congregations, especially in small religious places, and most of the time it is loathe to learn and experiment.
Crowd management is an art as well as a science, and a fine balance needs to be struck to prevent lakhs of people from going out of control. Not every event witnesses the same turnout, and the district administration should have the foresight to comprehend the days huge crowds are expected. The provision of smooth passage for devotees with adequate barricades is important. It goes without saying that deploying adequate police forces and directing them not to use force at the slightest provocation are important. All States should chalk out comprehensive plans to prevent stampedes in temples. Larger congregations in many important religious places are managed without untoward incidents.
Many letters have appeared on the Ratangarh tragedy. But the tendency is to blame only the authorities. I wonder whether there is no responsibility on the part of organisers of such events, and those who congregate on an occasion. Isn’t it a collective responsibility? The organisers should be capable of handling the crowd that is expected to converge, with the help of the authorities. It is also time people realised the futility of rituals and crowding a place on a particular day. Can they not go to the temple some other day?
You cannot blame people for their faith but you can always question the authorities in charge of maintaining order during festivals. The rumour which led to the tragedy in Datia could have been tackled promptly.
The unhealthy trend of the Opposition blaming the ruling party for disasters and calamities is on the rise. The latest is the blame game over the Ratangarh stampede. It is sad to see even top political leaders playing politics over such tragedies. Leaders should be sensitive to the losses suffered by people. They should do what they can to help the authorities deal with the tragedy.
M. Pradyu Thalikavu,