Saturday, February 24, 2018
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ALLAHABAD:- This year the peak of the Magh Mela crowds will be witnessed on the coming three days—January 14, 15 and 16. The Makarsankranti bath is scheduled for tomorrow but reports say that the bathing time will spill over to January 15 as well. On May 16 falls the Mauni Amavasya bath.

Crowds have already started pouring in the city and after the Mauani Amavasya bath is over, it will take quite some time for the massive gathering of pilgrims to disperse. In other words, there will be no relief for the administration even on January 17 as it will not be an easy thing to manage the colossus exit. To welcome the crowds may be easy but to bid them goodbye may not be easy because every one would be in a hurry to rush to railway stations, bus stands or airports to be the first to leave Allahabad.
We might have made the best of board and lodging arrangements for guests. Swiss cottages may be there. Kalp Vasis will be hosting many visitors too. But most of the pilgrims will comprise a part of the floating population. They will come, take a dip and depart. Some will be going, some will be coming. It won’t be an easy thing to manage them, especially when they cross the mela limits and enter the city-- more so because of the poor state of the city roads, the usable portion having shrunk because of the digging operations which are continuing in several parts of the city, especially in areas where flyovers and railway overbridges are coming up fast.
This Magh Mela is supposed to be the Dress Rehearsal for the gala Kumbh Mela which is scheduled to start in January 2019.The administration is expected to give forth its best this time also so that one may discover the areas which need drastic attention.

We must not forget that often when weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse and showers come down in a lashing mood, there is panic. Pilgrims try to run in any and every direction out of sheer panic. Can one prevent them from running helter- skelter once the panicky race starts?
We cannot forget the 1954 Kumbh Mela when hundreds were reported to have perished in one of the most tragic stampedes in living history. Even during the last Kumbh Mela—the Mahakumbh—there was stampede at Allahabad railway station in which several people were reported killed. It was then described as an unfortunate reality of Indian pilgrimages. Each time pilgrims throng a religious venue, we read of disasters, mostly caused by crowds that trample upon those who stumble and fall. It is usually the physically vulnerable — the elderly, children and women — who are killed in these stampedes.

If we recall the Paush Purnima bath, we can look back with satisfaction and say that it was a well-organised affair even though all preparations for the Mela were not complete.. The fact is that in the past the Mela administration has successfully managed over three crore devotees to take a dip at the ‘sangam’ on a single day. That is testimony to the progress our crowd management abilities have made since the 1954 Kumbh, when over 300 died in a major stampede. But despite the best of precautions stampedes continue to occur.

The number of pilgrims is only bound to increase in the years ahead because of an increasing population, higher disposable incomes and ease of travel. Thus, there is a real fear that unless we dramatically improve our crowd management systems, right from the time the pilgrims start arriving in town and at every stage of the pilgrimage, more and more people may be facing a risky time. We will simply have to come up with new ways to manage crowds — not just at the Magh Mela site but also at railway and bus stations, and on the streets. We will have to limit the crowds at particular spots during auspicious hours. How this is done is something the experts must have by now worked out. But what is certain is that the old ways simply won’t do if we want to end tragedies at our religious celebrations. Have our cops been properly trained to meet the likely challenges that they may encounter? Is the River Police ready too? Are rescue volunteers there in sufficient numbers to cope with an emergency?
Weather uncertainty is there. Experts say that the next few days could see temperature going down sharply though a minority of experts has also stated that the weather could even improve. But the administration will have to prepare itself for the worst. Every year, almost without fail, there is rain on Makar Sankranti day. If rain comes not in droplets but in torrents, has the administration made provision for emergency shelters? God forbid, if there is an accident how will relief reach the affected spot? Have we made helipads inside the Mela region to reach the people in need at the earliest? Have we arranged for bonfires? In their absence people might be compelled to burn roadside garbage that may spread air pollution and cause breathing trouble, especially among the asthma-prone pilgrims.
In case there is fire, have we made arrangements for fire-fighting engines to be available within minutes? Will they be rushed from the city or will they be kept handy in the Mela region itself to douse the flames that may accidentally engulf a tent or even deliberately be set on fire by mischief mongers if not suspected characters?
The other day there was a report that a thief, masquerading as a Sadhu was caught on CCTV camera breaking the window panes of a car and stealing a bag containing cash and valuable. Has the administration posted sufficient number of intelligence men to distinguish between fake and genuine sadhus? Is there any method to prevent people from entering the Mela with arms and inflammatory material? How do we shift emergency cases from the mela to bigger hospitals in the city? Have we prepared emergency shelters close to the Mela sites to accommodate people in case emergency shelter is needed to save pilgrims from lashing showers?
The next two days are going to be most challenging ones for the administration which will be on tenterhooks till the crowd thin away. We are hopeful that with alert and efficient senior officers handling the situation, the administration will come out with flying colours at the end of the day. But nothing can be said right now. We will have to keep our fingers crossed because, as the singer sang decades ago, ‘Zindagi ik safar hai suhana, yahan kal kya ho kis ne jaana’.

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