New Delhi, Feb 11: It was arguably largest gathering of humans at one place at a given time with three crore people at Kumbh Mela near Allahabad but it does not need to end in a tragedy.
The death of over 30 people at Allahabad railway station was due to panic. The public panicked due to inadequate number of trains to return home and the administration due to the sheer number of people at the railway station. The railways have deployed 700 special Kumbh servicec spread over 40 days and that seems to have been very little. And on Sunday, there were over 120 regular train services running through Allahabad and of them there were only about 30 trains available post 4.30 pm till midnight for the pilgrims to leave Allahabad. These 30 trains had to take in over 3 lakh passengers on the platform and that by any calculation is not a possibility.
The stampede happened at 6.45 pm and Sikkim Mahananda, Shipra Express, Seemanchal Express, Godan Express and Howrah Express from New Delhi arrive around that time as generally trains run late on New Delhi-Howrah route. These train services cover most of the Bihar, Bengal up east and Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra down central India. This is the peak time and the passengers were naturally in state of anxiety and panic.
Did Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal consider all these compulsions of the passengers when he said "adequate arrangements" had been made at the Allahabad railway station for Kumbh travellers?
Bansal also said that even if they run trains every 10 minutes, it won't be possible to manage three crore people. "The entire Railway system of India ferries 2.3 crore people each day. Even if we have trains at 10-minute intervals at Allahabad, managing 3 crore people may not be possible," he said.
But Mr Bansal the crowd at the station was around 3 lakhs and not 3 crores.
The Railways has been accused of gross mismanagement. They are also guilty of panicking and resorting to lathi charge. Witnesses claim that many of the deaths could have been prevented if those injured had been treated on time. The Railway hospital is less than 500 metres away from the station. At the station, there was only one doctor available to attend to the injured.
The youngest victim, eight-year-old Muskaan, lay injured on the platform for over two hours, before she was shifted to hospital. She died this morning.
Witnesses also say that the policemen used lathis to control the crowd. They said there was barely place to stand as lakhs of people attempted to board trains to return home after a dip in the Ganga. "We heard an announcement that our train is coming on platform number 4 and when we started moving toward that platform through a footbridge, we were stopped. Then suddenly the police charged us with batons and the stampede started," passenger Shushanto Kumar Sen said.
"People started tumbling over one another and within no time I saw people, particularly women and children, being trampled over by others," Sen said.
Police denied they had used batons to control the crowd.
"It was simply a case of overcrowding. People were in a hurry to go back and there were not enough arrangements by the railway authorities," said Arun Kumar, a senior police officer.
Train traffic at the Allahabad railway station came to a grinding halt after the swelling mob spilled over the platforms on to the tracks. It took the authorities more than three hours to remove the people from the tracks and restore regular rail movement.
Devotees waiting for trains at Allahabad railway station
Devotees waiting for trains at Allahabad railway station after taking holy dip in Mahakumbh on Mauni Amavasya on Sunday.
Passengers sit on railway tracks
Passengers sit on railway tracks in Allahabad on Monday.
People viewing photographs of the dead
People viewing photographs of the dead, as they search for their family members, after the stampede at Railway station in Allahabad on Monday.
Long queue of devotees to worship
Long queue of devotees to worship at the Kashi Viswanath Temple during Maha Kumbh Mela in Varanasi on Monday.
Large number of devotees waiting for their trains
Large number of devotees waiting for their trains after attending the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on Monday.
Victims' kin hit out at officials
Relatives of devotees who died in a stampede at a railway station, shout at a local government official as they try to arrange for the release of the bodies of loved ones at a local morgue in Allahabad on Monday.
(With agencies inputs)