[op-ed snap] Amritsar disaster: avoidable tragedy

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Disaster Management | Disaster & disaster management

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India’s tradition of festivals and cultural gatherings and how to avoid them becoming tragedies


Context

Amritsar Train Accident

  1. Each one of the 59 deaths on Dussehra night at Joda Phatak near Amritsar when a local diesel multiple unit train ran over a crowd could have been prevented
  2. In the aftermath of the entirely preventable carnage, in which spectators crowding a railway track to watch the burning of effigies were mowed down by a train, there is a frantic effort to pin responsibility on agencies and individuals, and, deplorably, to exploit public anger for political ends

Bravado by people

    1. The Dhobi Ghat ground, where the effigy of Ravana had been set on fire, is a small plot surrounded by houses on two sides
    2. People who couldn’t find space in the ground — according to reports, it could have accommodated only about 200 persons — had climbed the wall and occupied the railway track, disregarding the fact that this could prove to be dangerous
    3. Perhaps, some may have thought that they could jump off the tracks if and when a train approached
    4. It is the same misplaced bravado that makes people jump red lights at level-crossings or traffic junctions, drive on the wrong side of the road or overspeed on busy routes

Responsiblity of various stakeholders

  1. It seems the organisers of the Dussehra function did repeatedly warn the people perched on the track to be mindful of the passing trains
  2. The law enforcement machinery played a lukewarm role in crowd control
  3. The Municipal Corporation in Amritsar has tried to distance itself, claiming that its permission was not sought, although almost everyone in the city knew it was taking place

Festive celebrations turning into tragedies

  1. Major religious festivals in India are often overshadowed by deadly incidents such as stampedes and fires
  2. There were 249 deaths at the Chamunda Devi temple stampede in Jodhpur in 2008
  3. A railway station stampede took place during the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad in 2013 in which 36 people died

NDMA protocol

  1. The National Disaster Management Authority has responded to these horrors by creating a guide for State governments and local bodies, laying down a clear protocol to be followed for mass gatherings and festivals
  2. But this protocol is hitherto followed by various agencies responsible for its implementation

What should be done for future events?

  1. There should be a transformation of the way such events are organised, with a lead agency in each State and district empowered to issue instructions, and in turn be accountable for public safety
  2. A campaign to educate the public that railway tracks cannot be treated as commons, and vigorous enforcement, will reduce the probability of such incidents
  3. The Railways must identify hazard spots for train movement in heavily built-up areas and prevent trespass by barricading them

Way forward

  1. The government departments have not yet taken official protocols for safety at mass gatherings seriously
  2. What happened in Amritsar shows the disastrous consequences of the absence of a civic culture that can act as a restraint on misguided enthusiasms of the people, while at the same time posing a question mark on the vigilance of administrative agencies and the judgement of politicians in the face of swelling crowds
  3. A culture of safety can take root if governments imbibe it first

With inputs from the editorial: A dark night

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.
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