Category: Current Affairs


Managing Crowds to prevent stampedes

The tragic loss of over a hundred lives in the Hathras , UP, stampede has shocked the nation. It is all the more disturbing because it was a tragedy that could have been averted and a needless loss of lives avoided. The incident has taken place and now the blame game has started. The Administration is holding the organizers responsible while trying to escape its own accountability. Government and opposition parties are trading barbs. Conspiracy theories are being floated and some are seeing the hand of anti-social elements behind this ghastly catastrophe. The Government has done the right thing by ordering a three member judicial commission to enquire into the matter and report within two months. Compensation of four lakhs each has been announced to the deceased. The media is reporting this news from all angles and experts as well as ordinary citizens are debating on how such a major mishap could have taken place. The people are rightly agitated. Top officers of the Government have reached the spot making bold assertions that the responsibility on the guilty shall be fixed and no one will be spared. This is the right response but one cannot help but feel a sense of Déjà vu. Haven’t we seen all this before? This is not the first stampede tragedy in the country and this is not the first one in which a detailed inquiry has been ordered and guidelines for the future will be promulgated. Alas, this may not be the last such   tragedy because human memory is short and citizen anger would be lost in time. Other issues will dominate the   media. Hardly anybody would bother when the inquiry report comes out. The administration will store these guidelines along with several other such documents and allow it to gather dust. Incidentally, the national disaster management authority (NDMA) has studied all previous such incidents and issued comprehensive guidelines on crowd control to avoid stampedes. Unfortunately, the NDMA wisdom would be languishing in Government record rooms and it would be a rare administrator who would have read it and applied it.

The story of the incident as it unfolds from news reports talks about a self proclaimed Godman called Bholey Baba who resigned his job as a police constable more than twenty years ago and took up the far more lucrative profession of becoming a Godman. Over the years he has amassed a huge following and that is why more than two lakh people congregated at Hathras to listen to him preaching and be blessed with divine grace. The organizers estimated the crowd to be around 80,000 and sought permission from the administration accordingly. This, by itself, should have alerted the administration as this is a huge figure for a gathering. Moreover, the administration should have known that the organizers have no scientific way of assessing the likely strength of the crowd and it should have been obvious that far more will land up at the site. This should have been kept in mind while making the arrangements for the function and deploying the police force. Eventually, on a rough estimate more than two lakh people assembled for the function. After Bholey Baba had given his discourse he told the gathering that if people amongst them had some serious problems in life they could get them resolved by collecting the dust of the feet of the Baba and applying it on themselves. The Baba and his entourage began to leave the meeting site. A mass of people pushed forward to get a closer look at the Baba and some competed with one another to collect the dust of the feet of the self styled Godman. The volunteers of the organizers on duty tried to stop them and all hell broke loose. Men, women and children jostled, pushed and fell to the ground to be trampled upon by a crowd in panic and total disarray. As it happens in such cases it was the weakest namely the women, children and the elderly who lost their lives due to suffocation.

There were no arrangements to handle the medical emergency and the nearby trauma center did not have Doctors on duty at that time. The whole sequence of events shows that the administration had not adequately planned or prepared for the event and standard SOP’s of crowd management were not in place. The administration claims that they were responsible for arrangements outside the pandaal and the inside management was the responsibility of the organizers. To me this sounds strange because in a gathering of such huge dimensions the administration and the police cannot let the organizers who have a few untrained volunteers to manage the show. The first thing required to manage such an event is to have detailed discussions between the administration, police and the organizers and plan out everything from entry points, exit points, seating arrangements and circulation space. The responsibility of both the organizers and the police needs to be clearly delineated and it is the police which must have things in its control and the organizers could at best be expected to assist them. The whole approach, it appears, was most callous.

Crowd management is both a science and an art. One has to first understand the nature of the event. An event could be religious, youth festival, sports meet, political rally or any other. The type of crowd depends upon the nature of the event and varies according to age, gender or economic strata. It is also important to ascertain whether the motive of the crowd is social, political, religious or entertainment. The crowd management strategy depends upon these factors and the risk assessment varies accordingly. The suitability of the venue for a gathering of such size has to be clearly ascertained. Thereafter, it must be ensured that there are multiple entry and exit points and also there is enough space for people to enter or leave the premises. Further there has to be enough circulation space within the pandaal for ease of movement. Police force along with representatives of the organizers must be stationed at crucial points to control the flow of people. Greatest caution has to be exercised at the time when the function ends as there is a tendency for people to try and move out in a hurry. In essence, an integrated approach to crowd management is required. The best example that I have seen of this has been at the various Kumbh Melas where millions take a dip in the Ganges on the auspicious days. The administration must have enough idea of crowd psychology to be able to recognize the flash point when a crowd gets transformed into a mob.

The administration in such events must have a contingency plan to deal with the situation when things go wrong. In fact planning for such events requires thinking up of the worst case scenarios and having a response ready for them. This includes planning for a medical emergency by having ambulances stationed nearby and having the nearest hospital in a state of readiness. In this particular case it appears that there was serious under deployment of police force which is asking for trouble. For this reason it is imperative that officers of the administration and police visit the proposed site of the function and then make a practical scheme for deployment of the force. A most important factor often ignored is a proper briefing to be given to the police force. A complete mock drill conducted before the event makes sure that there are no issues of miscommunication. Installation of CCTV cameras and monitoring the crowd through them is essential as is having a functional public address system to constantly issue instructions to the public and the police force.

Those who have lost their lives will not come back. It is always the poorest who suffer. One can only express the deepest sadness for the departed souls. We can only hope and plan for the future to ensure that such tragedies which are eminently avoidable never recur again. Those responsible must be punished. We must also look within our society and consider how a scientific temper can take the place of superstation and blind faith.


Dream realized- A tribute to Leadership, self belief and resilience

After thirteen long years of wait India has finally won a World cup cricket final. The entire nation is exuberant with joy. All the players of team India need to be complemented and felicitated for their excellent performance. Last year the team had performed brilliantly in the one day cricket world cup. They won all their matches till the agonizing heart-break in the finals. The slumped and tearful figure of captain Rohit Sharma made the entire country weep. Barely nine months after that Rohit Sharma has led the Indian team to a great world cup victory. There are tears again but those of joy.

India once again galloped to the finals without losing a match but so did South Africa. The finals had all the potential of being an exciting, pulsating and a nerve racking affair. The whole of India was keeping its fingers crossed. India won the toss and elected to bat and the cricket pundits opined that it was a good bating wicket. India started off beautifully with Kohli sending Jansen to the ropes thrice in the first over and then Rohit followed with two consecutive fours. So far, so good but then suddenly there was a dramatic change in the situation. Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Surya Kumar Yadav were back in the pavilion with only 34 on the board. The sinking feeling had begun to set in. Virat Kohli had not batted well throughout the tournament but as the adage goes that when things become tough the tough get going, Kohli put his head down and played a masterly sheet anchor role by making 76. Deservedly he was declared the man of the match. On the other end captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid took a masterly decision and sent in Axar Patel ahead of other batsmen. The decision paid off and Axar launched into an aggressive 47 and rebuilt the Indian innings. Shivam Dubey also did his job and India reached 176. One could not suppress  a feeling that India was 20 runs short of what could have been a sure shot winning score. Things were now evenly balanced and it could be anybody’s game.

Bumrah is easily the best fast bowler in business and Arshdeep complemented well and South Africa lost two early wickets. De Kock and Stubbs stabilized things for South Africa but India dismissed them at the right time. At this stage it was advantage India. Then came Klassen and blasted the Indian spinners all over the park and in the company of David Miller wrested the match out of India’s hands. Thirty runs required of thirty balls and it all looked so easy for South Africa. But this Indian team has tremendous self belief. They still felt they could win and it showed in their intensity. Hardik Pandya lured Klassen into nicking one behind to the wicket keeper and Klassen left after scoring a brilliant 52. This was the moment when the initiative had to be seized and there was nobody better than Bumrah to do this. Two magnificent unplayable overs from Bumrah and the wicket of Jansen put South Africa on the back foot. The 19th over bowled by Arshdeep was also economical and South Africa were left to get 16 in the last over. Not easy but David Miller was there and we all knew that Miller could really hit.

Hardik Pandya confidently lumbered up to bowl the last over. David Miller went for a big one of the very first ball and the ball well struck went like a rocket towards the boundary. A six at this stage would have taken the match out of India’s hands. At the boundary Surya Kumar Yadav had different ideas. He took the catch of the century making old timers like me remember the catch taken by Kapil Dev in the 1983 world cup final to dismiss Vivian Richards. He showed great anticipation and presence of mind and the match swung India’s way. The next five balls went by without anything unprecedented happening and Pandya kept his cool. India won by seven runs and the world cup was theirs. Full credit must go to the captaincy of Rohit Sharma and strategizing of Rahul Dravid. Each player performed to his potential. It was a happy team and happy teams succeed. The entire nation was out in the streets dancing with joy.

Rohit, Virat and Jadeja announced their retirement from T-20. We will miss them but they gave us great moments of joy and made the country proud. Farewell heroes. The good thing is that India has a backup of promising players to make the future as bright as the present.