Voices Sunday, June 15, 2014 - 05:30
By Akansha Kumar  Two days after the tragic incident at Mandi the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh not only ordered an inquiry but also announced a slew of measures including fencing and proper installation of warning mechanism. So it took 24 lives for the Himachal Pradesh authorities to set up sign boards that could warn prospective visitors. As the search continues to find bodies of engineering students (8 have been recovered so far), June 13th ironically also marked the 17th anniversary of the Uphaar tragedy that saw 59 dying of asphyxia at a cinema hall in New Delhi in 1997. What has changed from 1997 to 2014? Perhaps nothing, the lackadaisical and callous approach of the authorities continues to claim innocent lives. Be it the AMRI hospital fire tragedy in Kolkata (2011) that claimed ninety lives or the fire accident in a cracker factory in Sivakasi in 2012 (interestingly the license of the factory was canceled a day before the tragedy struck) that claimed 38 lives or the stampede at Datia, MP, (2013) that claimed the lives of 115 pilgrims, every incident telling the sordid tale of a system in which the accountability is zilch. A few suspensions, a series of inquiries, a barrage of loopholes be it the precautionary measures undertaken or the sheer non-adherence to rules & regulations, cases slapped and that’s how closure is sought in the world’s largest democracy. From the front page and the headlines the news story slowly creeps out of the public memory as well those being affected by these man-made tragedies left to cope up on their own. But their struggle does not end there, take for example the case of Neelam Krishnamoorthy, President, AVUT (Association for Victims of Uphaar Tragedy) who lost both her children in Uphaar tragedy and has been fighting an arduous legal battle not only against the Ansals who continue to be out on bail but also against the political class that refuses to take a call on a legislation pending for the last five years. A proposal to bring in a new law to tackle with man-made tragedies was made in 2009, letters written, too much back and forth happened with the then Law Minister Verappa Moily in 2010 going as far as to say that a law will be there within the next ten months. While promptness is the last thing one could expect from our leaders, the Law Commission in 2012 took the first step in this direction by recommending amendments in Sec 304A IPC (that deals with death due to rash and negligent act). Ever since, the issue continues to hang in air, with incidents like Mandi, adding on to the statistics of man-made tragedies in our country. Administrative flaws, which is one of the root cause of such incidents, can be removed only when one fixes proper responsibility and accountability. Not only should heads roll but those found guilty be awarded with strictest of punishment so that it acts as a deterrent for others. Judicial intricacies are another off shoot of the problem which allows the likes of Warren Anderson (of the Bhopal gas tragedy fame) cool their heels abroad, yet a legislation may go a long way in instilling fear in the minds of those who don’t mind in stuffing 52 additional seats in a movie theatre and let 59 people die or who skip necessary fire checks and let 90 patients die of suffocation.  No one has a right to snuff out the life of students, patients, audience in a theatre or daily-wagers in a factory, anyone of us may get trapped in a similar situation the need of the hour is to facilitate a process that can help pull out those in a distress situation. Life shouldn’t be that cheap that the lack of a hooter and sign boards can wash away youngsters who could have contributed immensely as techies , perhaps Mandi should make us cringe more rather than feel sympathetic because tomorrow it can be the turn of anyone of us. Akansha Kumar is a researcher at NDTV 24*7, trespasser into what they call journalism.
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