UP stampede deaths: When will we learn?

The UP Chief Minister has ordered a magisterial inquiry.

Saturday’s stampede in Varanasi, in which 25 people lost their lives and a large number were injured, should never have happened. Tragedies of this kind are preventable as they happen with unfailing regularity at places of religious significance, and should therefore have long alerted the district administration in such locations to prepare well before a gathering of a large nature is allowed. Varanasi is the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That invests it with special significance and one may have expected that those running this district as administrators would go the extra mile to ensure smooth functioning in public matters.

Besides, it is one of the most important pilgrim centres of Hindus. Religious festivals and social events happen in this holy city all the year round. As such, it was expected that the district and city authorities and the police would have special training in crowd management. That this was evidently not the case speaks volumes for how we simply refuse to learn lessons.

In the light of the festival season (Dussehra has just passed and Diwali is coming soon), and the fact that there is an informal terror alert across the country due to the recent cross-LoC strike, there is all the more reason that the police and administration in a place like Varanasi should have taken special precautions when it was known that a huge crowd will gather for a programme that had been communicated to the authorities.

There is another reason for having been extra alert. The religious function to be held was that of the Jai Gurudev subaltern sect. The criminal activities of an offshoot of this sect had led to firing and deaths of about 20 people in Mathura in June. Considering this, the administration was expected to have been ever more watchful, but wasn’t.

It was not obliged to take at face value the organisers’ statement that some 3,000 devotees were expected to attend, while actually almost one lakh did. The local intelligence was obviously not put to use to anticipate the level of participation and hence the scale of administrative and police arrangements in crowd management that would become necessary.

The Uttar Pradesh CM has ordered a magisterial inquiry. UP’s police chief has suspended senior police officials. These steps are necessary, but what is really important is that we should learn lessons at least now. A specific directive from the Union home ministry is needed to alert all states and UTs that special crowd control arrangements with a special protocol should be brought into play when a large gathering is expected.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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