Lax crowd, cordon management led to Rath Yatra chaos!

Contrary to the claims that the issuance of passes was limited this time owing to the visit of President Droupadi Murmu, a large number of people were present in the inner cordon.
Video grab of the push and pull on Grand Road during Rath Yatra on July 7
Video grab of the push and pull on Grand Road during Rath Yatra on July 7

BHUBANESWAR: Poor crowd control, mismanagement of the cordons or overcrowding of the chariots - what led to the stampede-like situation that caused the death of a devotee and injury to scores of others during Rath Yatra on July 7?

While the exact reasons are yet to be ascertained, over the last two days, the Puri district headquarters hospital has admitted close to 400 people who were injured in the rush to pull the chariots or suffered dehydration in the heat and humidity. In fact, the state police was quick to attribute death of the devotee to cardiac arrest even before postmortem could be conducted.

Considered a special Rath Yatra, this year’s schedule was drawn as per the 1971 festival when a particular celestial arrangement led to Netra Utsav, Nabajaubana and Rath Yatra being observed on the same day. The first day was attended by President Droupadi Murmu, Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi, cabinet ministers and a host of other dignitaries and VIPs. According to police estimates, the gathering on July 7 was close to 10 lakh.

Every chariot is pulled by four coir ropes while the inner and outer cordons are separated by one rope each. Security forces manage the inner cordon so that people do not come close to the chariots and there is no problem in applying of the brake. However, this time, people were seen pulling both inner and outer cordon ropes when movement of chariots began, said a former temple administrator, requesting anonymity.

Contrary to the claims that issuance of passes was limited this time owing to the visit of President Droupadi Murmu, a large number of people were present in the inner cordon. “The pass mentions the inner cordon should be vacated once chariots are ready to be pulled. However, police failed to vacate the inner cordon and in the rush to pull the chariots, people ended up pulling the cordon ropes which hampered the chariot movement and led to chaos,” he added.

A temple manual on Rath Yatra has defined that less than 100 sevayats should be present on a chariot during its pulling owing to safety concerns. However, this norm was blatantly violated by sevayats who climbed up on all the three chariots in large numbers. “Administration should investigate how so many people got cordon passes and if everyone on the chariot was a sevayat who had a role to play in the rituals,” said a devotee. Neither the SP nor the collector could be reached for comments.

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