STAMPEDE DEATHS AND INJURIES
The death of 42 persons and serious injury to 37 persons in a stampede in Chennai on Sunday, December 18, drive home two things.
One is the urgent need for disaster and relief management mechanisms, including related crisis and crowd management.
In December last year Tamil Nadu was struck by Tsunami, and the Jayalalithaa administration managed the situation reasonably well, though unscrupulous elements descended upon the devastation struck areas like vultures around carcasses. Such elements included undeserving persons claiming relief, and many foreign funded NGOs. In fact, for developed countries India is a laboratory for human experiments, mainly disasters, both natural and man-made, and in the process many NGOs flourish and prosper.
This year’s continuous cyclones and rains have hit the state very hard, and the Chief Minister has been responding to the situation in all earnestness.
Though the state has adequate machinery, resources, and manpower for disaster management, many of its officials cannot see beyond their nose. Otherwise, with the kind of manpower which the state has it could certainly have delivered its relief-doles at the doors of the victims instead of adding to their hardship by making them crowd in different places.
Some 4000 to 4500 persons belonging to 2-3 ration shop areas were made to gather in front of a school to receive their tokens for collecting relief doles the next day. In no place such a size of population can be anything but orderly, without proper police intervention and protection. But in this case, police were nowhere in the vicinity.
And that should take us to the second issue. That is, why human beings behave worse than animals in some situations. When the stampede began, whatever be its cause, people could have easily dispersed, shouting hell with the relief. This did not happen. They were rushing to the school knocking down others, and stamping the dead and injured bodies in the process.
Though the Collector of the Chennai district has been transferred, it is poor consolation. There is need for the state politicians and officials to have elementary lessons in crisis and relief management, and ensure, wherever possible, that the distribution of relief does not cause further crisis to the beneficiaries. The state should also educate its citizens that even in crisis situations instead of pushing aside the other victims they should be treated with concern and dignity.