Who will take the onus for 36 deaths in Allahabad stampede?

Stampede is routine, and so is death, at religious gatherings. When it comes to the aam aadmi, the administration is pretty much cavalier

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | February 11, 2013


At Allahabad on Sunday: On Monday, railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the railways are not at fault for the tragedy that left at least 36 people dead.
At Allahabad on Sunday: On Monday, railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the railways are not at fault for the tragedy that left at least 36 people dead.

“Allahabad stampede: Toll mounts to 36, UP govt orders inquiry” ran a typical headline of a national daily to announce that a stampede at the Allahabad railway station on Sunday evening claimed 36 lives.

An inquiry has been ordered. No one has taken responsibility for the tragedy yet, and no one will. We will not know the fate of the inquiry. And going by past experience, the news will go off the front pages after a day or two, which would only provide an update in terms of mounting death toll. Nothing more.
This is routine, though.

Re-jig the memory. Eighteen people, most of them women and children, were killed in Patna during the Chhat festival when a makeshift rope bridge collapsed in November 2012. Eight people died in Junagarh in Gujarat following a stampede during the Mahashivratri last February. More than 100 killed in a stampede at Sabrimala’s Makar Jyoti Day festival in January 2011. More than 150 died in a stampede at Jodhpur’s Chamunda Devi temple during the Navaratra festival in 2008. Stampedes at the New Delhi railway station killed two persons in 2010 and five in 2004 (it was a Chhat rush) when platforms were changed at the last minute.

The point is, stampede is also routine. People assemble in thousands and lakhs during festivities at places which are grossly inadequate to handle them. The result often is a stampede, and due primarily to small issues that take on gigantic proportions at such times: such as change of platform at the last minute (Delhi), a roadblock on narrow paths used by pilgrims (Sabrimala), a loss of footing by a few pilgrims on a slope (Jodhpur) or a simple lathicharge at the unmanageable crowd (Allahabad on Saturday).

The loss of lives in stampedes is routine, too. No one gets punished; inquiries don’t matter. People keep dying in various parts of the country all the time in such stampedes and, yet, nothing changes. One can bet more people will die in stampedes waiting to happen all over the country during various festivals in years to come but no one will be found responsible. And because these are routine matters, the gross mismanagement will continue as well.

And since no one will take responsibility, and everyone will conveniently pass the buck, nothing will be done to prevent it in future.

Who, for example, is responsible for the deaths in Allahabad? No one, and railway minister Pawan Bansal passed on the onus on Monday itself, saying, “I want to clear that stampede occurred due to people reaching in large numbers.... The entire railway network of India ferries 2.3 crore people each day. Even if we have trains at 10-minute intervals at Allahabad, managing 3 crore people may not be possible.”

One account says a lathicharge on the unruly crowd at the station led to the stampede. But the divisional railway manager has rubbished it. A minister of the UP government has blamed the Centre, which controls India Railways, so no state government official will be responsible, though they are organising the Mahakumbh and knew well in advance that lakhs of pilgrims will attend it and will catch trains and buses to return home.

So why wasn’t adequate preparation made? Why couldn’t there have been better crowd regulating plans, adequate buses or trains to avoid rush? More importantly, who will take these questions? Again, no one, because the state government has now passed the buck to the Centre and the railways.
Was anybody questioned or punished for the mismanagement that led to more than 100 deaths each in Sabrimala or Jodhpur? No.

So why should the situation be any different for the Allahabad incident?

Stampedes are waiting to happen not only during the festival rushes but even otherwise. Look at our bus stands and railway stations — the facilities are grossly inadequate. More people, for example, visit the ISBT bus terminus at Kashmiri Gate in Delhi every day than the swanky international airport, T3, and yet how many people can the ISBT handle? A few hundred at best.

The bus terminus is spread over less than 10 acres and filled to the last millimeter at any time of the day. Compare that with about 5,000 acres that the new airport complex occupies. True, there are other inter-state bus terminuses in Delhi but the condition there is no better.

At New Delhi railway station the passenger load has increased manifold but the expansion work carried out there recently is grossly inadequate. A new terminal was opened at Anand Vihar to take the load off but it keeps missing its deadline endlessly and is not fully functional yet.

It may sound uncharitable, yet the truth is when it comes to the aam aadmi, the administration is pretty much cavalier. Their lives don’t count for much. A few lakh rupees in compensation is all that is considered adequate. Let one member from the privileged class die in such a stampede and see how it will shake up the organisers of public functions such as these. But again, that is not a wish one would like to make.
 

 

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