An avoidable tragedy

July 17, 2015 01:50 am | Updated November 17, 2021 03:48 am IST

>Stampedes during >religious festivals are >quite common in > India . Over a dozen instances of pilgrims being trampled to death have been recorded in independent India, and the common thread running through every such tragedy is the utter failure of the authorities and the public alike to learn any lesson from previous disasters. At the Godavari Maha Pushkaram at Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh on July 14, >every ingredient needed for a tragedy was present — a rarely occurring religious festival attended by millions of people, the edge of a crowded bathing ghat, and the presence of VIPs causing waiting devotees to lose their patience. A host of factors appeared to have contributed to the >stampede that led to 28 deaths , not least among them being the fact that huge crowds were allowed to gather at the Pushkar ghat even as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and his family members were taking a holy dip at the auspicious time. Pilgrims were apparently kept waiting for hours >before the VIP entourage arrived . This resulted in a surge towards the bathing ghat as the gates were opened. Mr. Naidu had his dip at the Pushkar ghat, which usually attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims, instead of at another facility earmarked for VIPs. The incident is reminiscent of the 1992 Mahamaham tragedy at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu when nearly 50 pilgrims died in a temple tank, probably because the security measures made for the Chief Minister had restricted the space earmarked for the public.

Several factors appear to have contributed to the Godavari tragedy. These include lack of proper barricading to enable pilgrims to move in single file towards the river, the failure of the authorities to guide devotees, especially those unfamiliar with the town, to more spacious ghats elsewhere, and the absence of planning for crowd management. All this indicates that even a good deal of advance preparation and elaborate security arrangements are not enough to guarantee safety at mass events unless some elementary safeguards are in place. After the Maha Kumbh Mela tragedy in 1954, Jawaharlal Nehru had asked VIPs to stay away from such events. It was recognised even then that the presence of VIPs puts needless pressure and strain on the administrative machinery and severely compromises optimal measures to control milling crowds. The Kumbh at Nashik in Maharashtra is just a month away. On the last occasion, >40 people died in a stampede there . The authorities must take every precaution to prevent a repeat. While VIPs do have a right to participate in such events, it should be ensured that their presence does not compromise the safety of the public.

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