After 300 people died in a stampede at a temple in Maharashtra on January 25, concerns regarding security were voiced at a number of pilgrimage spots around India.
A number of simple preventive measures, such as limiting the inflow of pilgrims allowed at the same time into the central compound and the availability of a public address system in order to restore calm, might have significantly reduced the fatalities, suggests the Indian newsmagazine Frontline (Feb. 25). But authorities and police add that their task is not easy; if police “insist on limiting the numbers who enter a small area, then people complain that we are interfering with their worship,” a local official says.
However, some pilgrimage places are reported to have implemented efficient measures in order to manage crowds reaching millions of pilgrims. Such is Allahabad, which is the place for a kumbh mela, a major gathering at periodic intervals. The crowds are monitored and redirected when pressure is observed on a particular route. Incoming and outgoing routes are far away from each other, in order to minimize the consequences of a stampede. A public address system will be used to provide instructions instantly.
The huge numbers of pilgrims reaching the most varied places also raise other concerns, such as environmental issues in remote and forested areas.
— By Jean-François Mayer