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Trouble-free but vulnerable

Print edition : Feb 25, 2005 T+T-
in Bhubaneswar

THE Rath Yatra of Puri has so far been free of any major tragedy though the festival remains vulnerable to accidents. However, in 1993, six persons were killed in a stampede on the premises of the Jagannath temple on the occasion of Nagarjuna Puja of the deities.

Apparently, safety is not a priority at the various festivals and fairs, including those of the Tourism Department, held in different parts of Orissa round the year. The first tragedy at a religious congregation in the State took place on February 23, 1997, at the 46th annual conference of the devotees of Swami Nigamananda at Madhuban, near Baripada, in Mayurbhanj district. At least 176 persons were burnt to death and hundreds were injured when the thatched sheds meant for male devotees caught fire. Most of the victims were stranded at the only exit point.

The Director-General of Police, B.B. Mishra, compliments the people for the smooth conduct of the Rath Yatra. "They have patience and are accustomed to coping with the situation at various religious congregations," he said. Among the other factors that have contributed to the trouble-free conduct of the rath yatra are the Grand Road (Bada Danda) of Puri, which provides enough space for the lakhs of devotees, and the deployment of policemen who have experience in security duty at festivals, said Mishra.

However, Mishra is far from happy about the safety arrangements at the various festivals organised without the involvement of the administration. While the police take care of the security and traffic arrangements, the organisers do not give enough attention to safety measures at the entry and exit points, he said.

But Rabindranath Pratihari, member of the Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, believes that traffic and crowd control need to be made more effective during the 12-day yatra. He felt that devotees should be asked to enter the Jagannath temple only through the main entrance and exit through the three remaining doors.

But Ipsit Pratihari, president of the Sri Jagannath Sevayat Kalyan Parishad, has a different opinion. "It is God's grace that there has not been any unfortunate incident during the Rath Yatra. The religious gathering at Puri is unique in itself. Unlike any other religious congregation, people do not have to enter the temple to have darshan of the deities because Jagannath comes out every year to be with the people.''

Many others feel that managing the yatra by involving the local population and all the government departments has helped prevent untoward incidents.