Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, Feb 16:
Seven years after the then member Board of Revenue submitted his inquiry report into the stampede during the 2008 Rath Yatra in which six devotees were killed and more than 50 injured, the Odisha government has woken up to the findings and recommendations made in the report and has initiated measures to prevent an encore during the Nabakalebara festival in July this year, which is expected to draw lakhs of people to the pilgrim town.
Sources in the know said that the report had recommended freeing the area in front of the Lions Gate of the Shree Mandir and areas on its four sides of encroachments to prevent such mishaps from taking place.
The report had laid emphasis on demolition of illegal structures, especially the shoe stand blocking the road in front of the Lions Gate, Ram Daya Parishad building, Police station building, Badachhata Mutt, Chhauni Mutt, Shree Mandir Soochana Kendra, Information booth of the I & PR department in the first phase.
That apart, it also recommended demolition of unsafe buildings in the vicinity of the Lions Gate, which include Emar Mutt, Languli Mutt, old building of the Bada Akhada Mutt and other buildings in similar condition.
The report also suggested widening of the area in front of the Shree Mandir and adoption of dynamic crowd management measures, arrangements for security of devotees during darshan in view of the ever increasing number of devotees during Rath Yatra every year.
It had also recommended making robust security arrangements keeping in view all possible threats and dangers before each festival and especially during Rath Yatra as it draws huge crowds.
In its bid to implement the recommendations made in the report, the state government has already held a meeting with the mahants (heads) of different mutts and has also issued notices for demolition to widen the area around the four sides of the temple.
It may be mentioned here that during the Rath Yatra of the Lords in Puri in 2008, six devotees were killed and more than 50 injured in a stampede that occurred at the narrow space between the wooden barricade made around Lord Balabhadra’s chariot and Kansari Patty.
The tragic incident occurred around 11.30 AM on the Gundicha Yatra (the onward journey of the Lords) day.
The three chariots of the Lords were parked at the Ratha Chakada, (the place where the three chariots are parked to receive the Lords on their 9-day soujourn to their aunt’s place), elder brother Lord Balabhadra had already ascended his chariot and taken his seat. It was his sister Devi Subhadra, who was on her pahandi bije (the journey of the Lords from the temple’s sanctum sanctorum to their respective chariots) when the tragic incident took place as the wooden barricade around Lord Balabhadra’s chariot gave in under pressure from the surging crowd.
The then member Board of Revenue was asked by the state government to probe the incident and suggest remedial measures to prevent reccurrence of such incidents in the future.
The Commission of Inquiry, in its report, had revealed that the stampede occurred because of a pick pocket. The report said while the devotees were watching the pahandi bije with rapt attention, a miscreant, taking advantage of the situation, attempted to pick the pocket of devotees. People in the crowd tried to catch him and he attempted to give them a slip by pushing through the crowd which resulted in the stampede. The miscreant too was killed in the stampede.
However, the report has given a clean chit to the administration and the security arrangements made during the Rath Yatra.