news Sunday, July 19, 2015 - 05:30
Casualties resulting from stampedes at religious gatherings are a phenomenon which has sadly claimed the lives of thousands of devotees. In two separate instances this week, 31 people have died in stampedes in Pushkar Ghat, Andhra Pradesh and in Puri, Odisha, but it would seem that most such tragedies occur due to protocol not being followed. The 29 casualties at Pushkar Ghat in Rajahmundry have rattled the AP government, but guidelines could have been followed and measures taken earlier instead of after the tragedy. More than a few instances of such stampedes and subsequent deaths have occurred in the past decade. And the causes in each range from base rumour mongering (which lead to conflicting reports) to lack of crowd control and poor management. There are also genuine accidents that invoke a sense of panic in the thousands of devotees which led to mishaps. What is also striking from the following reports is the fact that the causes for most of them remain shrouded in mystery as there are many versions to the story. Reports emerging from Andhra Pradesh mention that the government has placed blame on the devotees while opposition parties have criticised the CM Chandrababu Naidu. A man-made disaster is still remembered as a tragedy but conflicting accounts of events hamper how they are remembered. Here are some of the worst such disasters, many with questionable causes but all show how a sense of panic engulfs people when en masse. Kalubai temple in Mandradevi, Maharashtra (2008)- A midday rush led to a mini-stampede, and when concerned family members of the devotees rushed uphill, they were allegedly stopped by the police say reports. The 1-km-road leading up to the temple was narrow, and the presence of close to 300 stalls on the path did not help. The face-off between family members of devotees and the police led to the crowd burning stalls, which led to LPG cylinders exploding, subsequent panic and a stampede which took the lives of 291 people on Janurary 25, 2005. Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh (2008)- A stampede that took the lives of 146 people was reportedly set off after the collapse of a railing, but conflicting versions of the cause persist. While some devotees said that the railing collapse led to the stampede, others said that the mad rush led the railing to collapse in the first place, triggering more terror on August 3, 2008. Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur, Rajasthan (2008)- The over-zealousness of devotees was cited as a reason for the deaths of 224 people out of close to a reported 25,000 present there on September 30, 2008. A report mentions that after a barricade broke, people started rushing in in hordes, whereas a BBC report also cites rumour-mongering including a bomb hoax. Sabarimala temple in Pullumedu, Kerala (2011)- A reported 106 people died on January 25 that year and over 100 others were injured after a jeep rammed into pilgrims, killing some on the spot and overturning, mention reports. The cause still remains inconclusive though, as the stampede occurred in an area which is an open field. Ratangarh Mata temple in Madhya Pradesh (2013)- After rumours spread that a a bridge, which is 1.5 kms from the temple, was collapsing, panic spread, and led to 115 devotees losing their lives. Reports say that a section of the railing on the bridge came off, leading to fear mongering and an ensuing stampede on October 13, 2013. Since (in 2014), the National Disaster Management Authority has come up with a guide for managing crowds at such “mass gatherings”. The document, which cites several of the aforementioned calamities, also cites preventive measures which the AP government may have overshot. Section 3.5.1 of the guidelines state: “Have plans to take care of VIP visitors. Do not hesitate to refuse entry to VIP if assessment indicates that it will add to safety concerns.” Naidu was present at the Pushkar ghat with several important visitors whereas another ghat, the Saraswati, had been put in place keeping in mind the VIP visitors. The crowd at the venue was said to be agitated after having waited for long outside the venue. They rushed into the relatively smaller Pushkar ghat after Naidu took his two-hour-dip in the water, which coincided with the shooting of a Nat Geo documentary which was reportedly underway. A report in The Hindu also mentions that the pilgrims were unaware of other ghats in Rajahmundry that they could visit where the crowd is lesser. The NDMA guidelines via Section 4.6.4 stipulate the use of announcers and their requirement: “They should be well versed with the emergency evacuation plans, alternate routes, location of facilities, route map and must have access to the crowd situation at the venue.” If the devotees had been waiting in line for several hours, why were they not informed of an alternate? And while reports have been damaging to Naidu with the YSR Congress shifting the blame to his doorstep, the TDP leader, aside from breaking down in front the camera, has appealed to devotees to not crowd one ghat and make their way to the others. He made the following appeal on Twitter, after the disaster had happened. I request to people to head to other Pushkar ghats to avoid overcrowding at single ghat. I'm monitoring situation from control room. (2/3) — N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) July 14, 2015 It would thus appear that the entire tragedy could have been averted if protocol had been followed in the first place. The blame-game that follows only confuses a reader as there cannot be just one reason that leads to disasters of such nature, but several tipping points that may miss hindsight.
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