Avoidable tragedy: On the Hathras stampede 

Mass gatherings should be tightly regulated to prevent Hathras-type stampedes 

Updated - July 04, 2024 01:02 pm IST

Published - July 04, 2024 12:20 am IST

The stampede at a religious congregation at Hathras in western Uttar Pradesh, claiming over 120 lives, is only the latest in a series of such tragedies in the country. There have been at least half-a-dozen such incidents in the last 20-odd years. In this instance, at least a lakh of people flocked to Fulrai village to listen to an address by a preacher Suraj Pal, also known as Narayan Sakar Hari or “Bhole Baba”. There are reports that there were over 2.5 lakh participants at the venue, which could accommodate no more than 80,000. The preacher is said to have followers in States such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana too. Most of the deceased, mainly women and children, were from the economically vulnerable sections of society, and were in search of spiritual solace. While only a fair investigation can find out the cause for the stampede, the reasons being cited include overcrowding, and the bid by some to collect soil from around the feet of the preacher. Not surprisingly, the responses, particularly from the field-level public health system, have exposed how ill-prepared the Uttar Pradesh administration is. Visuals of bodies lying outside the place of post mortem and of the kin desperate for help, as well as an inadequate number of ambulances and medical staff have become the common features of such tragedies. What has made it worse is the preacher and his aides reportedly leaving the site even as panic-stricken people were dying.

The most tragic aspect, as seen in the past, is that it was all avoidable had there been proactive steps taken by a vigilant administration. Unfortunately, the authorities in many States do not appear to have learnt lessons or made use of the availability of better technology and communication. Apart from stringent action against those responsible, the U.P. administration should ensure a just compensation package, the cost of which has to be borne by the organisers. The tragedy is a classic study in the management of large crowds. The officials concerned should ensure that the organisers have the wherewithal to handle large gatherings of any size. The local authorities and organisers should also conduct a drill ahead of such events. What is more important is that the political executive, the bureaucracy and organisers of any public event should be conscious of the fact that the loss of a life is a tragedy for the person’s family. The arrangements for mass functions should be governed by this fact.

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