Pilgrims Blame Police for Puri Stampede
BY: DEBABRATA MOHAPATRA
Jul 05, JAGANNATHA PURI, ORISSA Did Friday's stampede during Rath Yatra take place thanks to the "cozy seating arrangements" made by the police for VIPs? Common pilgrims lambasted that the police were enamoured with the high-end pilgrims and provided them "more than enough" spaces to sit, leaving very little area for the former (who were thousands in number) to stand and have room for smooth movement.
The pilgrims' complaint was evident, if the security arrangement at the stampede sight on Friday was any indication. Six pilgrims, including three women were crushed to death and many bore injuries when curious devotees jostled for space, leading to the killer stampede. Police had set-up fences a few distances away from Lord Balabhadra's chariot (in front of which the stampede reportedly took place) for VIPs to sit, on the safer side under a building roof. Subsequently a very narrow passage was left on the other side of the fences for common pilgrims' movement. According to sources, nearly 1,000 seats for VIPs were arranged nearby the stampede sight.
"The passage's width was only 5 feet. Is it not a foolish move to arrange a 5 ft wide road for passage of thousands of people at one stretch?" asked a fuming devotee, Susil Kumar Sahoo from Karanjia in Mayurbhanj district. Sahoo, like others, was trapped in the whirlpool of rush and sustained minor injury. "Police made wide arrangements for the VIPs, whose seats had occupied most of the spaces, leaving little space for us to stroll. Since the passage at the stampede sight was very narrow, the tragedy took place," Sahoo said.
Incidentally, after the stampede that had taken place on November 4, 2006 inside Jagannath Temple, police were equally pilloried for reportedly allowing a VIP to enter the shrine's sanctum sanctorum, thereby stopping a mass gathering behind. It was a festive occasion on that day and devotees in droves were waiting for the exit of the VIP so that they could have a glimpse of the Lord, sources said. But all hell went loose when the crowd, who were stopped by police, made their entry into the sanctum sanctorum in a forceful manner causing the stampede in which four were killed.
"If the special treatment offered to a VIP was the cause behind the stampede in 2006, then the police should not have repeated the mistake this year. Clearly, police lacked the insight into the future and failed to learn from past mistake," said Parakshita Dash, a city-based pilgrim. On Friday the injured, who were admitted to the Puri hospital also held the police culpable for latter's crowd mismanagement.
Police did not buy the pilgrim's story. "Such type of arrangements for VIPs is done every year. It (Rath Yatra) had been a smooth sail until this year. The stampede was a mere accident. Our arrangement was perfect," said claimed senior police official.