Who's to blame for Allahabad stampede?
By Mohit Dubey, Allahabad, Feb 11 : Even as the state government ordered a probe into Sunday's stampede at Allahabad railway station, sources said pressure on Kumbh officials to clear the town of millions of people led to the 36 deaths and injuries to over 24 others.
"The entire Kumbh mela administration was on tenterhooks since dawn Sunday as millions poured into the mela area. Officials and police had been ordered to ensure that people left immediately after bathing," a senior official told IANS Monday.
Public address systems repeatedly told people to leave after bathing. This officials said, was the reason why people came and left in hordes.
Devesh Chaturvedi, divisional commissioner of Allahabad and the seniormost official overseeing the Kumbh, said the ratio of incoming and outgoing people was 60:40. The people leaving the Kumbh were headed to railway stations, bus stops and private parking areas.
With heightened security after the execution of parliament attack accused Afzal Guru Saturday, officials said the police were asked to "shoo away the crowds out of the Kumbh mela area".
"People were being constantly told by police that staying in the mela area was going to create more trouble and asked them to leave," said Akansha Mathur, a Meerut resident who had gone to bathe at Sangam on Mauni Amavasya.
Officials admit that with almost all areas in the seven zones - parade, Sangam, akhada, Jet bridge, Jhunsi, south Jhunsi and Arail - packed with crowds and the 68 watchtowers and 66 CCTV camera's confirming "unexpected crowds", it was decided to "focus on making the crowds leave".
It was then that 11 traffic plans were put in place "to ensure breathing space at the Kumbh mela", an official said.
However, officials did not anticipate that while clearing the Kumbh area, they were pushing millions of people into an "unprepared city", a traffic policeman told IANS.
Police and para military personnel manning the 126 fixed barriers and the 822 mobile barriers admitted "immense pressure" to get people out of the 58 sq km Kumbh mela complex. Adding to this were rumours of several accidents, boat capsizes and stampedes that aggravated the problem.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Jawed Usmani said the truth would only be known once the probe, ordered by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, concludes. The lack of response teams and only one doctor at the railway station also left much to be answered.
For two hours after the stampede on the foot overbridge and the staircase leading to platforms five and six, no medical help reached the railway station, where 1.25 lakh people were jostling to board trains.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)