news Friday, July 17, 2015 - 05:30
    Are some people more equal than others?    Two days after the Godavari Pushkaralu stampede claimed 29 lives in Rajahmundry, a preliminary report has tried to blame the crowds for breaching barricades, leading to the tragedy.   According to the report written by East Godavari district collector H Arun Kumar and forwarded to the Union Home ministry and State Human Rights Commission, "Heavy influx of pilgrims started increasing as time passed by and at around 8:30 am and the crowd from all directions started breaching the barricades set up for crowd control."   The report however mentions a point that makes one question if the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and top police officers were also in some way culpable for the tragedy that unfolded at the ghats.   The report notes "Chief Minister along with other VIPs and other VVIPs took the first holy dip in the river Godavari at about 6:26 am in the Pushkar ghat."   This even as the crowd outside swelled up.The report clearly indicated that the crowds were getting too eager even as the chief minister blocked up an entire ghat to have the first dip.   It says "The pilgrims from every nook and corner of the state and from other neighbouring states have started reaching the city for the mega event from the last two days. All this crowd had gathered at the event on 14.07.2015 and were eagerly waiting to have a dip in the river after the event was inaugurated."    Was the first dip necessary?   Many people have questioned Naidu's intentions to inconvenience and hold up the thousands of people waiting at the entrance of the gate by taking a dip at the Pushkar ghat, while there was a separate designated Saraswati ghat for VIPs, keeping in mind security concerns.   As if this wasn't enough, the chief minister was also accompanied by a film crew who were shooting a documentary for more than an hour even as the crowd waited outside.   YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, leader of the YSR Congress and opposition leader has called it “a gimmick and publicity stunt” on the part of the Chief Minister to have taken a dip at the Pushkar ghat instead of the VIP ghat."   Why so long?   Besides his entire entourage of ministers, Naidu reportedly visited the ghat with his entire family and close aides beside a large congregation that included priests, reporters, documentary crews and a lot of security forces.   However the chief minister who could have finished his dip in a span of a few minutes reportedly spent up to two hours at the ghat shooting for the documentary.   Was security diverted?   According to standard procedure, the ghat is not just blocked upon the arrival of the VVIP, but much ahead of the visit as there is a doubt as to the exact time when the VVIP will arrive. Pictures show that Naidu was flanked by many security personnel, and the government has not been forthcoming on how many guards on duty were diverted for VIP protection.   Why did police officers not stop VIP influx?   Under 3.5.1 of the guidelines for state governments in managing crowds at events and mass gatherings, issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) it says, "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."   It is therefore surprising that with a sea of humanity expected there, no top police officer asked for cancellation of VIP events. Or, did they?   Why promote the festival and then not take precautions?   What makes the entire incident more embarrassing for the TDP government is that the state government had gone all out in a promotional frenzy asking more people to visit the ghat.   With the entire state government backing the religious festival, from full page advertisements in newspapers to Facebook, no medium was spared.     However, later on, when asked what led to the incident, Minister for Home and Disaster Management N Chinna Rajappa also said, “It is considered a sacred ghat and most pilgrims had gathered just outside, leading to overcrowding. Women and elderly persons fell down when the gates were opened and people pushed each other.”    Reacting to the allegations, Naidu claimed that he and his family were quick in completing the rituals and blamed a sudden and unanticipated surge of pilgrims from three directions for the stampede.   A detailed enquiry has been ordered into the case.    

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