Lost and found at kumbh: lessons in humane governance

Cavalier administration was busy taking care of VVIPs, hoi polloi were left to fend for themselves

ajay

Ajay Singh | February 12, 2013


Cries of despair at Allahabad station after the stampede: Politicians and officials were too casual till the last moment about the minute details that go into administrative arrangements for the kumbh mela.
Cries of despair at Allahabad station after the stampede: Politicians and officials were too casual till the last moment about the minute details that go into administrative arrangements for the kumbh mela.

Lies, damn lies and hubris characterise the conduct of the UP government after the tragedy at the kumbh in Allahabad. The moment the administration learnt of the stampede at the railway station (which claimed 36 lives) and another at the kumbh site, they resorted to lies.

“The railway station is not our domain,” claimed UP’s minister for urban development Mohammad Azam Khan, who was de-facto in charge of the kumbh mela administration. In making this claim, though, he was only technically correct — as much correct as prime minister PV Narasimha Rao was in his defence when the Babri mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992.

Like Rao, Khan conveniently forgot to mention the fact that the management of the mela, its traffic and coordination is the sole responsibility of the state government.

In fact, a letter from his department, which is the nodal agency in the administration of the kumbh congregation, has clearly stated that the responsibility of traffic management lies squarely with the inspector general of police (Allahabad zone). The IG is appointed the chairman of a committee which has among its members all senior railway officials up to the level of divisional railway managers (DRMs), and even the air commodore of the Bamrauli air base, which is in Allahabad.

The primary task of this committee is to ensure a smooth traffic flow — not only from the mela area but also from the railway station and bus terminus — so that the large number of visitors do not congest the city beyond a point. A senior police officer is routinely posted at the railway station during the kumbh mela to take on-the-spot decisions and deploy forces to maintain order.

Of course, an administration which is too busy facilitating holy dips for big industrialists, cine stars and politicians is only expected to care two hoots about traffic management. Obviously, the efficiency of the administration is expected to be judged by arrangements made for the VVIPs, and not by casualties of hoi polloi at the railway station or the kumbh site.

This casual approach was reflected in the manner in which a chopper was allowed to fly over the mela zone to get an aerial view, though the area is declared a no-fly zone. This incident reflected subversive collaboration among various agencies entrusted to govern the mela. Of course, in Allahabad, no chopper could have flown without the permission of the air force. But the air force is maintaining a stoic silence for obvious reasons. There might have been a VVIP or his kin on board that chopper.

Perhaps those aware of the kumbh arrangements in Allahabad had a premonition long ago that the mega event was destined for a tragedy this time. Politicians and officials were too casual till the last moment about the minute details that go into administrative arrangements. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was literally goaded to visit Allahabad by a section of officials who were genuinely alarmed by the cavalier manner in which the whole matter was dealt with.
By all accounts, the tragedy at the kumbh was waiting to happen, and it would be naïve to believe that those in the government — ranging from the chief minister to officials posted on mela duty — were oblivious of this. But they expected that their human follies would be ignored by providence, as the Mauni Amavasya dip at the kumbh coincides with a propitious alignment of planets.

However, gods failed them. This is why Akhilesh Yadav is busy attending weddings at Etawah instead of sharing the sorrows of hapless people who can be easily beguiled into voting for him in the next election.
 

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