Who's to blame for Allahabad stampede?

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 11, 2013 16:25 hrs

Allahabad: 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 said on 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.

Centre and UP govt in blame game

A blame game broke out between the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government on Monday over who was responsible for the Allahabad station stampede in which the death toll rose to 36 even as a senior state minister resigned on Monday owning moral responsibility.

Two probes, one by the UP government and another by the Railways, to go into what triggered the stampede as also organisational lapses, have been ordered. The stampede broke out last night when the railway station was teeming with thousands of pilgrims returning home after a dip at the 'Maha Kumbh' in Allahabad.

CMO Allahabad Dr Prabhakar said 14 more people died during treatment, taking the death toll to 36. The victims include 26 women, 9 men and a child. Bodies of 20 of the deceased have been identified.

The Samajwadi Party government blamed the Railways for not making adequate arrangements to deal with the rush while the Railways ministry felt if the state government had dealt with the situation in a better way, the tragedy could have been averted.

"We all know who is at fault for this incident," Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said.

Railways Minister P K Bansal blamed the stampede on tardy crowd management by the local administration.

Replying to a query, he said "prima facie, the stampede appears to be a result of people entering the station both through the city side as well as the Civil Lines side."

"This was contrary to the plan the Railways had made in consultation with the local administration according to which crowds had to be directed only through the city side and the Civil Lines side was to be made accessible in the case of emergency with prior information to Railway officials," Bansal told a press conference after visiting the stampede site.

"People should realise that Railways is not supposed to manage crowds. Its duty is to ferry people to their destinations," he said.

"Those supposed to take care of the crowd management could not do so and the tragedy occurred," Bansal said.

Taking moral responsibility for the stampede, UP Cabinet Minister Mohammad Azam Khan resigned as the in-charge of Kumbh Mela.

"Though the incident took place outside the Kumbh Mela premises, I take moral responsibility and resign as the in-charge of the Kumbh. I am sending my resignation to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav", Khan told reporters in Lucknow.

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