Amritsar disaster: avoidable tragedy

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Context:

  • The ghastly Dasara disaster at Amritsar that has left 59 people dead is a harsh reminder, if any were needed, that government departments have not yet taken official protocols for safety at mass gatherings seriously.
  • In the aftermath of the entirely preventable carnage, in which spectators crowding a railway track to watch burning of effigies were mowed down by a train, there is a frantic effort to pin responsibility on agencies and individuals, and, deplorably, to exploit public anger for political ends.

Responsiblity of various stakeholders

  • It seems the organisers of the Dussehra function did repeatedly warn the people perched on the track to be mindful of the passing trains
  • The law enforcement machinery played a lukewarm role in crowd control
  • The Municipal Corporation in Amritsar has tried to distance itself, claiming that its permission was not sought, although almost everyone in the city knew it was taking place

Celebrations turning into tragedies

  • Major religious festivals in India are often overshadowed by deadly incidents such as stampedes and fires
  • There were 249 deaths at the Chamunda Devi temple stampede in Jodhpur in 2008
  • A railway station stampede took place during the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad in 2013 in which 36 people died

National Disaster Management Authority protocol

  • The National Disaster Management Authority has responded to these horrors by creating a guide for State governments and local bodies, laying down a clear protocol to be followed for mass gatherings and festivals
  • But this protocol is hitherto followed by various agencies responsible for its implementation

What should be done for future events?

  • There should be a transformation of the way such events are organised, with a lead agency in each State and district empowered to issue instructions, and in turn be accountable for public safety
  • A campaign to educate the public that railway tracks cannot be treated as commons, and vigorous enforcement, will reduce the probability of such incidents
  • The Railways must identify hazard spots for train movement in heavily built-up areas and prevent trespass by barricading them

Way forward

  • The government departments have not yet taken official protocols for safety at mass gatherings seriously
  • What happened in Amritsar shows the disastrous consequences of the absence of a civic culture that can act as a restraint on misguided enthusiasms of the people, while at the same time posing a question mark on the vigilance of administrative agencies and the judgement of politicians in the face of swelling crowds
  • A culture of safety can take root if governments imbibe it first.

Source:TH & IE