The Sunday stampede that killed nearly 36 Kumbh pilgrims at the Allahabad railway station could have been averted, if the authorities had paid heed to the recommendations of a government appointed committee that went into a similar incident killing over 21 people in the state capital over 10 years ago.
These recommendations have worked well, at least in the state capital, for years now. The top recommendations put forth by the panel probing the Charbagh railway station stampede (September 28, 2002) included setting up of a ‘holding area’ nearby for accommodating big crowds before entry into the station premises.
The panel, which comprised both civil and railway authorities and was headed by SN Jha, then principal secretary (planning), also suggested that the authrities, both civil and railways, should put up ‘temporary zigzag barricading’ inside the railway premises to manage heavy inflow of passengers.
If eyewitness’ account is anything to go by, the railway authorities at Allahabad looked the other way on these two counts on Sunday. Those who were there on the fateful day said no such arrangements such as holding area and barricading, were put in place by the authorities on that day that saw a footfall of over one lakh people at the station. Strangely, the arrangements were in place at the Prayag station, which witnessed only small crowd.
“Forget the committee's recommendations, it is a in fact mandatory to set up holding areas in the vicinity to streamline the inflow, especially when you are expecting a sudden inflow of one lakh plus passengers,” a senior railway official said. Sunday’s incident at Allahabad was utter failure on part of the authorities in terms of crowd management, he added.
Interestingly, the recommendations of the Jha committee are being followed in letter and spirit in all the rallies organised in the state capital since 2002. Mostly, the railway stadium near the Charbagh station is used as a holding ground, which is equipped with public announcement system to guide the passengers.
In fact, all the stakeholders here- the district and railway administrations, government railway police (GRP), railway protection force (RPF) -have the guidelines displayed on their office walls in bold letters.
Before the Kumbh began this time, the North Central Railway (NCR) officials had in fact ceremoniously revealed their ‘meticulously devised’ crowd management plans at the Allahabad junction.
Addressing newsmen, an NCR spokesperson said that six enclosures had been set up at the junction to streamline any heavy inflow. He enumerated plans to take in passengers through different routes leading to the platforms to avoid any untoward situation. In sharp contrast, the plan sadly remained only on paper.
“We had put up four hoarding areas for the day. But who would listen to us. People were in a hurry; they wanted to enter the station as early as they could. No one paid heed to our incessant requests. And when the crowd is such huge, it becomes impossible to control it,” a railway police official said on Tuesday.
Soon after the Charbagh stampede during the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) rally, the divisional railway manager (DRM) of Northern Railway Kamlesh Kumar was removed as a damage control exercise besides setting up of the probe committee.