ALLAHABAD, India, February 12, 2013 (Times of India): HPI note: There are dozens of stories on the tragic events at the Kumbha Mela yesterday. This Times of India story is as complete as any. Hinduism Today reporter Rajiv Malik tells us by phone that the disaster has cast a gloom over all the pilgrims still at the Mela.
The Allahabad railway station seldom sees more than 15,000 passengers on any given day. But on Sunday, when over 32.5 million people thronged Kumbh for a shahi snan on mauni amavasya, 150,000 lakh people were waiting for trains in the same station a little after 6 in the evening, and the railways had no contingency plan in place. In the stampede that followed, 36 people have died so far, 50 others are seriously injured.
A day after the tragedy, chairman of the Kumbh Mela Committee Azam Khan resigned claiming moral responsibility. In a hastily convened press conference, UP chief secretary Jawed Usmani said a probe committee would look into “what went wrong” and turn in its report in a month. Railway minister Pawan Bansal, who visited Allahabad on Monday, also said a two-member committee would be appointed to investigate the matter.
But the way the events unfolded on Sunday clearly point to a serious lapse on the part of the railways. Crowds were allowed to enter the station till there was no room for anyone to move. Afterward, a desperate Government Railway Police (GRP) resorted to lathi charge to control the crowds. That was not all. After announcing the arrival of a train on platform no 4, eyewitnesses said, the railways made another announcement saying the train had arrived, instead, on platform number 6. Frenzied travelers, mostly travelling with several pieces of luggage, rushed in that direction. As they climbed up the stairs, they found passengers on the foot overbridge running towards them, fleeing from the lathi charge.
At that point of time, some 6,000 people were jostling for space on that overbridge. In the melee, people were pushed down the stairs, some killed, scores injured and a large number separated from their families. After the tragedy struck though, victims were also left unattended for over three hours, according to eyewitnesses. Till late into Sunday night, the administration also failed to give an exact count of the number of victims.
One eyewitness and volunteer, Mohini Singh, said, “We helped the people we could by picking up bodies and moving them to the side. No emergency medical aid was made available to the victims though. Several people could have been saved if the officials had shown a little more sympathy.”
What is also strange is why the railways and the local administration made no contingency plan. The official estimates — a 28% increase in the number of pilgrims over the previous Maha Kumbh in 2001 — was available to the administration nearly one month before the mela began.
There were serious lapses on the part of the district administration as well. Every year, the mela administration puts together a formal traffic movement plan. On Sunday, a complete failure of the government machinery was visible, with only one route leading out of the Kumbh mela grounds. Though exit routes could have been planned from Jhusi, Phaphamau, Prayag and Rambagh, everyone who came out of Kumbh, was diverted towards the Allahabad railway station.
Allahabad division commissioner Devesh Chaturvedi said, by Sunday noon over 20 million people had bathed in the Sangam. A sizable percentage of this number was headed for the station.
Though the entire railways in the country could not have tackled the crowds that reach the station on Sunday, the extent of unpreparedness was shocking. All trains were running behind schedule, some even 21 hours late. This meant people who should have left the station after boarding their train were waiting while new passengers were entering the station. Station manager Girish Kanchan said, “The regular trains are running behind schedule as a result of the special trains. There are delays, but there is little we can do to control it.”
Also, several trains that reached Allahabad had faulty signages: coaches indicating they were plying between Agra and Ajmer were, in fact, headed to Jhansi via Manekpur and Banda. In another instance, a Delhi-bound Duronto Express turned out to be a train headed for Mughalsarai.
To make matters worse, the public address system at the station was being used mostly for lost-and-found announcements instead of announcing the arrival and departure of trains, adding to the chaos and confusion.