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The Tragedy of Neglect: Stampedes and Fire Incidents

Each incident should serve as a lesson to improve future safety measures
the tragedy of neglect  stampedes and fire incidents

The recent stampede in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, resulting in the deaths of 123 people, and the subsequent knee-jerk reaction amidst commotion, absence of first responders and even the absence of immediate arrests, highlights a persistent issue in the country - the inadequate management of large gatherings and the frequent occurrence of such tragedies.


Similarly, the fire incident in Bihar’s Darbhanga, in April where six persons including children were killed when a wedding tent caught fire. Gujarat’s Rajkot, where 27 people were killed after a gaming arcade fire highlights the need for comprehensive safety protocols and strict enforcement and the basic knowledge of how to respond in such a situation to the masses.


Understanding Crowd Management


Crowd management is a critical aspect of organising any large event, particularly when considering the immediate response and safety measures required during a tragedy. Unfortunately, this crucial element is often overlooked or inadequately addressed. While the administration is frequently criticised for arriving late at the scene, much like a delayed entry in a Bollywood crime scene, the responsibility also lies with society. There is a pervasive casual and lackadaisical approach to managing events.


Effective crowd management involves understanding the behaviour of large groups, planning for various contingencies, and ensuring the presence of trained personnel to handle emergencies. The failure to implement these measures has always led to catastrophic outcomes, as evidenced by the Hathras stampede—a tragedy that will likely fade from public memory until the next incident occurs.


In the case of the Hathras incident, the organisers permitted a crowd of approximately 250,000 people, despite only having permission for 80,000. This gross negligence, coupled with inadequate security measures, created a situation ripe for disaster. The involvement of the godman’s private security guards in exacerbating the situation further underscores the lack of professional crowd control.


To prevent such tragedies, organisers must take several pre-function precautions, including ensuring that the expected number of attendees aligns with the venue’s capacity and obtaining the necessary permissions; hiring trained security personnel capable of managing large crowds without resorting to force; having clear evacuation plans and conducting drills to prepare for potential emergencies; maintaining constant communication with local authorities and attendees to ensure adequate support and quick response times. The government also plays a crucial role in preventing these incidents by establishing and enforcing stringent regulations for public gatherings, including mandatory crowd management plans; conducting regular inspections of venues and events to ensure compliance with safety standards; holding organisers accountable for any lapses in safety measures, with severe penalties for violations.


The Culture of Knee-Jerk Reactions

There is a troubling pattern of knee-jerk reactions to such incidents, with immediate outrage followed by promises of action that rarely lead to substantive change. This cycle must be broken through sustained efforts to implement and enforce safety protocols. The lack of follow-up and the failure to learn from past mistakes result in repeated tragedies. Examining some of the earlier incidents of stampedes and their aftermath reveals a troubling pattern of inadequate crowd management and insufficient long-term policy changes.

In 2013, the Ratangarh Temple Stampede in Madhya Pradesh resulted in the deaths of over 115 people and left hundreds injured during the Navratri festival. This incident caused a significant public outcry and urgent demands for improved crowd management. While an inquiry was ordered in response, the implementation of long-term changes in crowd control at religious events has been minimal.

The following year, in 2014, the Godavari Pushkaram Stampede in Andhra Pradesh claimed 27 lives due to severe overcrowding during the Pushkaralu festival. The state government pledged to introduce better crowd management practices.

In 2015, a stampede occurred in Saudi Arabia, affecting many Indian pilgrims and resulting in over 100 Indian deaths. Although this incident took place outside of India, it highlighted the critical need for better coordination between the Indian and Saudi authorities. In response, the Indian government emphasized the importance of improved pre-departure briefings for pilgrims to enhance their safety.

In 2016 during a religious gathering in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where a stampede led to 24 deaths. Authorities quickly promised thorough investigations and implemented temporary measures to prevent future incidents. Nonetheless, long-term solutions remain elusive, and similar risks persist.

Most recently, in 2022, a stampede at the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir resulted in the deaths of twelve people and injuries to several others due to overcrowding. This incident sparked discussions about the urgent need for better infrastructure and crowd control measures. Despite these discussions, actual policy changes have been limited. In summary, these tragic incidents should teach us effective and lasting crowd management solutions. While immediate responses and temporary measures are often put in place, the lack of sustained policy changes continues to endanger lives during large gatherings and events.

Lessons learned

Each incident should serve as a lesson to improve future safety measures. Authorities must conduct thorough investigations, identify the root causes, and ensure that recommendations are implemented. Transparency in these processes and public accountability are essential to build trust and prevent future incidents. Effective crowd management requires a combination of comprehensive planning, the use of technology, clear communication, and strong collaboration between organisers, authorities, and the public. By applying these, organisers can significantly reduce the risk of tragedies and ensure the safety and well-being of all attendees at large events.

Awareness, Education and Training: The public should be educated about the risks associated with large gatherings and the importance of following safety protocols. Public awareness campaigns can teach people how to behave in crowded situations and what to do in emergencies. This responsibility lies not only with event organisers and authorities but also with the masses and influential leaders.

Individuals must recognise their role in maintaining order. Simple actions like not pushing, following instructions, and being aware of exits can significantly reduce the risk of stampedes. The public should be informed repeatedly and taught at different levels about emergency procedures, bystanders’ roles, and the importance of remaining calm during crises.

Advocating Safety: Political, religious, and social leaders who draw large crowds should advocate for safety and the importance of crowd management. Their influence can encourage followers to prioritise safety over-enthusiasm. By demonstrating responsible behaviour and ensuring their events are well-managed, leaders can set a standard for others to follow. Leaders should work closely with local authorities to ensure that their events comply with safety regulations and that adequate measures are in place.

Ensuring the safety of large gatherings is a collective responsibility. When everyone, from event organisers to attendees, is aware of their role, the risk of disasters can be minimised. Continuous efforts to educate the public and promote safety practices are essential.

Case Study Examples for Learning Crowd Management

Kumbh Mela in 2019: Millions of people and devotees gathered here. However, adequate planning months ahead of the event led to a successful event.

The Key Lessons learned were the comprehensive detailed planning involving multiple agencies to ensure smooth operations. Using barricades to segment the crowd into smaller, manageable sections. RFID tags were used to track lost persons, and a command centre monitored the crowd through CCTV cameras. Multiple emergency Services like medical teams and camps, stationed water supplies, makeshift toilets and other emergency services were deployed, along with clear signage and public announcements.

Another example is the Hajj Pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj pilgrimage has witnessed several tragic stampedes, but improvements have been made over the years. The previous year’s Hajj saw significant advancements in crowd management.

Lessons learnt including Infrastructure Improvement. Expanding the Jamarat Bridge to allow better flow and reduce congestion. Implementing staggered scheduling for different groups to perform rituals, in addition to training pilgrims about safety measures and crowd behaviour through pre-departure briefings that are regularly done in India.

Hillsborough Disaster (United Kingdom, 1989) A human crash at Hillsborough Stadium resulted in 96 deaths due to overcrowding in the stands.

Key Lessons learned were Capacity Management. Strictly adhering to venue capacities and monitoring entry points. Designing barriers and entryways to prevent overcrowding and facilitate smooth movement. Enhancing emergency response plans and ensuring they are well-practiced. Having multiple and marked exits to prevent bottlenecks.

Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration (USA) Managing one of the largest annual gatherings in New York City with millions of attendees.

Key Lessons learnt were Pre-Event Planning - extensive planning involving multiple city departments and agencies. Using barricades to segment the crowd into smaller, manageable sections. Employing technology like drones and surveillance cameras for real-time crowd monitoring.

Running of the Bulls (Spain) The annual event in Pamplona attracts hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators, requiring robust crowd management.

Key Lessons learned were controlled access: Restricting access to certain areas to prevent overcrowding. Educating participants and spectators on safety protocols and behaviour expectations. Having medical teams and emergency response units on standby.


The frequent occurrence of stampedes and fire incidents highlights a severe deficiency in crowd management and safety protocols. Organisers and administration must take proactive measures to ensure the safety of attendees, while the government must enforce strict regulations and hold violators accountable. Moving beyond knee-jerk reactions to a culture of sustained safety improvements is crucial to prevent such tragedies in the future. Only through a comprehensive approach to learning from past incidents, which includes proper planning, professional management, and stringent enforcement can we hope to safeguard lives and ensure the well-being of all attendees at public events.

 The author is National Editor

Greater Kashmir