Sunday, February 25, 2018
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No words will be appropriate enough to express one’s deep sorrow and anguish over the loss of so many lives in stampedes that occurred in the Kumbhnagar and at the Junction Railway station on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya. The incidents call for introspection by the authorities concerned. Where did we fail? This is not the time to play the blame game but to evolve a strong strategy so as to ensure that the remaining bathing days pass off peacefully.

We cannot bring back to life those who are dead and gone. But we must at least help those in pain to recover and wipe the tears of those in bereavement. It is in this connection that one must appreciate the gesture of Divisional Commissioner Devesh Chaturvedi who visited the Swaroop Rani Nehru Hospital in the city where at least 25 injured persons are admitted, some of them in a critical condition. The Divisional Commissioner was accompanied by Dr SP Singh, Principal of Motilal Nehru Medical College to which the hospital is attached. The officials patiently faced the angry people when they complained against the "lack of proper care and facilities". They did face stormy weather but did not lose their patience in trying to calm down the furious relatives of the dead ones.. The Commissioner and the Principal were moved on hearing the cries of some of the bereaved kin who were complaining that they were being prevented from taking away the bodies of their near and dear ones. Mr Chaturvedi assured them that the bodies would soon be released after post-mortem and other formalities have been completed. Some 14 injured were undergoing treatment at the Railway hospital too. It may be noted that the Railway Hospital is situated close to the station. There were several more admitted here. Those in critical conditions had to be shifted to the SRN Hospital. One hopes and prays that they will soon recover and go back home to their respective cities.

What the eye-witnesses say

The eye-witnesses have different versions to give though they do not contradict one another. A TV news channel commentator was in a furious mood. He was shouting that there was no doctor around, no ambulance around, no inquiry booth to inform people where they should seek first-aid. He said, ‘Before the stretchers could be brought, coffins were being arranged for’. This scribe in fury said that he had seen police vans in the city carrying relatives of the officials to the mela and not transporting cops for field work. He said the same thing for ambulances which, he said, were carrying relatives of medical personnel to the mela and not the injured. He went to the spot and said that no railing had given way. This was initially corroborated by the railway officials too. But subsequently a railway official was quoted saying that the railing had broken as a result of which some pilgrims fell and others fell on them and the rest of it started. He also said that in the absence of any help from the Railway staff or police, passengers were carrying their own injured in bedsheets and asking him to tell them where the hospital was. This commentator said, ‘I did not know where a hospital was’. But Railway officials hit back and said, ‘The doctors were very much there—not at the station but in hospitals, attending to those who were grievously injured’.

Then there were several others who were lucky enough to escape from the tragedy with minor bruises. They had different tales to tell about what could have triggered the catastrophe. Mr Ajay Kumar of Banda has been quoted saying: "We were told that our train will be available at platform number 4. While crossing the foot over-bridge, we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that the train will be coming on platform number 6. We started running back, trying to plough through a huge crowd headed in the opposite direction. In the process, some of the people tripped and people started falling over each other," he said. 
Our own reporter, who was present at the Railway station told me that the rush of those who were dismounting from trains to go to the Sangam was as big as the crowds that were trying to get into the trains for their homeward journey. ‘They appeared to be there in multitude, like ants.’

But Mr Praveen from Sonepat in Haryana has been quoted as blaming the incident on "lathi charge by police". He says: "There was a very huge crowd trying to descend from the over-bridge to catch their train on platform number 6. Unable to handle the situation, policemen began wielding their batons. Had they acted more sensibly, the stampede could have been avoided". However, the allegation about the baton charge has been denied by both DRM Harindra Rao and DIG (Railway) Lalji Shukla.

No collapse of foot-over-bridge
It is indeed gratifying to note that Railway Minister is visiting Allahabad along with Chairman Railway Board Vinay Mittal to take stock of the situation and meet the families of the victims. His Allahabad visit is to see the situation and the preparations for the remaining Shahi Snans as three more dips are scheduled in the coming days."

Incidentally the Minister has also clarified that ‘there has been no collapse of foot-over-bridge or any railing on the station.’ It was good to learn that he has also ordered that more trains are being pressed into service for rescue operations. What is more, AC second class passes will be given to each of the relatives of the victims who want to go to Allahabad and proper arrangements will also be made for their return. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has already expressed shock at the loss of life in the stampede at the Allahabad railway station, and issued instructions to Ministry of Railways to provide all necessary assistance to the affected persons. We are sure that this will be done at top speed and also hope that with additional precautions that are bound to be taken, the remaining bathing days will pass off peacefully.
But the local police will also have to be prodded in order to ensure that they regulate properly the moving crowds on the roads and ensure that they do not simultaneously converge at a particular point to block movement from all sides. It is such congestion that also hinders in rushing aid to the victims of mishaps. 

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