Need a blueprint to deal with large public congregations

No congregation in India is ever easy to manage. But the challenge becomes monumental when these congregations comprise thousands of people in one place.

This could be a railway station, a temple or a mela. An intentional or unintentional push or a rumour can result in hundreds of deaths in a short span of time.

Despite such dangers,  crowd management is seen as a last-minute job which often falls on over-worked and under-prepared policemen. Unsurprisingly, they usually fail to read the first signs of trouble and then react in a ham-handed manner, which is usually lathi-charging the already panic-stricken crowd.

The latest in the long list of mishaps is the one that took place in Datia in Madhya Pradesh on Sunday: 115 people have already perished and the toll is expected to rise.
It was lack of planning that led to the Datia disaster: according to reports, the stampede started when rumours spread that the bridge on the river Sindh, which was being used by the pilgrims heading towards the Ratangarh temple, was collapsing.

Once the rumour did the rounds, the people reacted the way they usually do to such news — they panicked and ran helter skelter. Things also became uncontrollable because the district administration had allowed heavy vehicles on the bridge, which clearly was not sturdy enough to carry such loads.
The reaction of the political class must also be blamed for such accidents taking place regularly: instead of discussing how things can be improved and made secure for the people, every tragedy seems to become a show of political one-upmanship.

The Datia incident is no different. Instead of playing politics over dead bodies, we need leaders and bureaucrats to brainstorm and find out ways on how to avoid such mishaps in future and it should not be difficult for a country that has learnt to manage the Kumbh Mela, arguably one of the biggest congregations in the world.

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