Himachal Pradesh unprepared to handle disasters

August 4th, 2008 - 2:31 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Naina Devi (Himachal Pradesh), Aug 4 (IANS) The stampede at the hilltop shrine that killed at least 145 people has made it clear once more that the authorities in Himachal Pradesh are unprepared to handle disasters, natural or manmade. When the stampede occurred, there was no stretcher, no ambulance, no senior official. Despite most of the districts in the state being prone to natural calamities and having witnessed many earthquakes, landslides and cloudbursts, the government machinery still lacks an effective disaster management policy, according to experts.

And the stampede at a hill temple here Sunday has once again exposed the hollowness of the officials’ claim of being able to deal with such disasters.

The tragedy occurred in the morning but till the evening the officials were not even able to assess the number of casualties.

Most of the administration and police officials reached the spot hours after the stampede, eyewitnesses told IANS.

Even Bilaspur’s acting deputy commissioner P.C. Verma and superintendent of police K.K. Indoria reached the spot four hours after the tragedy.

Naresh Singh, who claims to be an eyewitness, said there were no stretchers at the spot to lift the injured. He said most of the injured were lifted physically.

“We rescued two children and took them to nearby Community Health Centre for first-aid but surprisingly there was only one doctor to attend to scores of injured,” he said.

Legislator Randhir Sharma said there was no ambulance in the local hospital so they took the help of volunteers.

He said there was total chaos on the road leading to the temple that hampered the rescue operation.

He said most of the injured died on the way to the civil hospital in Anandpur Sahib town of Punjab, which is 30 km from the accident spot.

Ravinder Kumar, a former chairman of the geology department in Panjab University, Chandigarh, said since the main road leading to the temple is landslide prone, the government should have taken precautionary measures.

Raj Kumar Maria, a local shopkeeper, said the government had not learnt lessons even after two tragedies happened before Sunday’s stampede.

In 1981, there was only one gate for entry and exit of devotees and the stampede that took place at the narrow staircase killed 53 people.

On Aug 6, 2001, one woman died and several people were injured when the railing of the stairs collapsed due to heavy rush.

Inspector-general of police (law and order) S.R. Mardi, who also reached the spot late in the evening, claimed that the police had made elaborate arrangements, but the unexpected rush of devotees overwhelmed the security arrangements.

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