It would be easy to blame only the authorities whose job it is to cater to emergency and relief measures after an accident has occurred. But it’s the authorities whose job it is to implement preventive measures and the people who are supposed to abide by them who need to be hauled up severely each time lives are lost because no one bothered with safety regulations. In the recent case of stampede deaths in Varanasi, not only were authorities out of line for not having a clue about crowd management — having made only perfunctory gestures that invited a disaster — but the crowds themselves showed little concern to stick to rules that should have averted the tragedy. On Sunday, a convention in east Delhi saw the same scenario repe-at itself, this time the tragedy’s source being a fire that claimed dozens of lives. After initial investigation, it was found that the programme organisers had not sought the mandatory permission from the Delhi Fire Service and no rules to fire safety had been adhered to. The fire that consumed the shamiana area made from bamboo, wood and cloth was reportedly caused by an electrical spark. Life may still be cheap in ‘Rising India’, but that is hardly a reason for deaths to occur with sickening regularity owing to no one bothering about precautions in public spaces.
Much is made of the rampant corruption that sees regulation-flouting buildings crumble and public space safety requirements tossed in the bin. The Uphaar fire tragedy in Delhi was a case in which authorities were essentially in league with the owners of a cinema to ensure corners were cut and matters were left to chance rather than to minimising risks. That Indian society at large leaves itself exposed to the worst kind of man-made tragedies is the gargantuan mad elephant in the room. Anyone visiting the jhuggi-jhopris in Mumbai or congested marketplaces in upmarket south Delhi will realise that we are sitting on a powder keg. Tea stalls with open stoves operate in Delhi’s furniture market in Amar Colony. Neither authorities nor customers have much problems in overlooking such flouting of rules. And even after a tragedy has occurred and the compensation money has been doled out essentially to pay off acts of squalid negligence, there is little in terms of crackdowns that take place. One tragedy simply becomes the prequel for the next. Why is there such apathy to obvious human sufferings? Above everything else, it’s not important or tragic enough.
Our inherent cynicism — passed off almost cutely as being our ‘traditional’ streak of fatalism — allows us to conduct a desultory, mental cost-benefit report in which the efforts required to minimise public hazard far overwhelm the shame of allowing ‘easy’ deaths, injuries and losses to recur. If India is serious about not merely posing as a country that’s proud of its citizens, then it should immediately start a crackdown on sites of criminal negligence, whether they be illegal constructions or flouted norms for public spaces. And let that start with coming down heavily on those responsible for Sunday’s pointless, easily avoidable east Delhi deaths.