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kumbh fire
Before writing anything on the Kumbh Mela  fires—not just a fire--  we must express our deep sense of appreciation for the excellent job done by the Indian Airforce when  an IAF ambulance  successfully evacuated eight persons who received severe burn injuries, for emergency medical attention in the national capital. It is their emergency attention which deserves praise and appreciation. On the Allahabad District Magistrate’s request,  "IAF immediately pressed into service an AN-32 aircraft (modified air ambulance) from Agra on requisition to airlift eight severely burnt pilgrims ...and flew them out to Delhi at about 1215 hours  on Saturday," IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Gerard Galway has revealed, adding: ‘One of the injured had sustained serious burn injuries and was administered oxygen on-board the aircraft with help of a doctor there itself’’ (And the Kumbh Fire Officer says that none was injured seriously!). Along with the injured, the plane also carried members of their families and attendants   The  District Magistrate,, Mr Rajshekhar, did the right thing by taking prompt action in the matter. The whole thing  highlights  the high level of alertness and the spirit of coordination and cooperation witnessed on both sides—something commendable indeed. It may be mentioned that 19 people, including six women and three children, were injured in the fire incident which had taken place at the pandal of Ram Janaki Mandir Trust and engulfed a tent in the vicinity.The injured were admitted to the Swaroop Rani Nehru Hospital in Allahabad but since they sustained serious burns, they were sent to Delhi for “specialised treatment”, an official  was stated to have explained.

 Incidentally, before the start of the Mela, the Health officials were saying that arrangements were made for handling emergency cases as well.  But unfortunately, that was not done even  though  the incident occurred on a non-bathing day when mobility was possible. On a bathing day it would have been extremely difficult to carry the burn victims to Sarup Rani Nehru Hospital as the treatment offered there was not sufficient to meet the requirements of an urgent situation. The Kumbh Fire officer says that no one was injured. But facts tell a different tale altogether. Had none been injured seriously, would they have been airlifted to Delhi for ‘specialized treatment?’ Did this not show that in Allahabad there was no hospital to provide the ‘specialized treatment?’ Or was the Delhi example of airlifting the gang-raped girl to Dubai was followed here too by shifting the severely injured to Delhi so that if any one of them had to die, that should happen not here but in Delhi as any casualty here would have caused acute resentment if not panic. The local administration claims that all those who were flown to Delhi are out of danger. Lets hope that they are speaking the truth because one can hardly rely any more on official claims.

kumbh fire

Were they accidental or planned?

-       The fire incidents in the Mahakumbh area the other day were not as simple as the administration would have us believe, especially the Police, which was coming out with instant explanations about the causes of the catastrophe. It may be noted that fire broke out in two separate camps in different sectors—Sectors 4 and 11-- at the Kumbh Mela area. A report says that nearly a dozen tents were gutted. One report says that the fire engines arrived on time but another report says that the arrival of the dousing team was delayed which resulted in avoidable damage.  Ten tents were gutted in the Ram Govind Das camp area. The devotees living in these tents had gone to hear a 'katha' (sermon) nearby when the blaze broke out. A full-fledged probe will reveal the true picture.

The police issued an instant explanation. The fire was caused by gas leakage. But ZEE news bulletin said that some believed it could be due to short circuit as well. These are the much touted explanations whenever a fire breaks out. But the short-circuit theory was not apparently pressed because that would have exposed the inadequacies in precautionary measures taken by the Power department. Putting the blame on gas was safer as in that case individuals would be blamed , not the administration. This reminds me that once when there was a fire in a newly constructed building in Allahabad some years ago, police blamed it on short-circuit. When they were told that the building was without a power connection and that no electrical wiring had been done, the cops said the fire was caused by cylinder blasts. But when the premises were checked it was found that two gas cylinders in the kitchen were very much intact. Then who set the house on fire?

In Mela too now a third explanation is being given—that the fire might have been caused by the aggarbattis left burning inside the camp. They did not think of yet another explanation that used to be given in the past—that the fire started from a biri or cigarette stub that was left half-burning. The pilgrims used to be blamed for this.  But why this drama? Is it because the administration does not want any one to get the impression that these two fires were not accidental but planned? Just as terrorists plan serial bombings, they had this time planned serial fires?

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