Another tragedy waiting to happen at Naina Devi

August 7th, 2008 - 12:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Aug 7 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh government is paying no heed to the safety of devotees who are travelling daily to the Naina Devi temple, despite last Sunday’s tragedy at the hilltop shrine in which 145 people were killed in a stampede. Every day thousands of devotees are going to the temple in highly unsafe vehicles.

Hundreds of trucks and vans that have been temporarily converted into double-deckers by fixing wooden planks are carrying pilgrims from nearby towns and states, sources in the state transport department told IANS.

On top of that, the entire 13-km stretch connecting the temple to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab is dotted with large potholes. The road is virtually non-existent at a number of places. Heavy vehicles move like seesaws as if they are crossing lunar craters, some even the size of shallow graves.

The condition of other roads leading to the shrine is similar.

The sources said the danger doubled during the pilgrimage season when devotees carry kerosene and cooking gas cylinders in these vehicles.

“Why is the government allowing the truckers to ply overloaded vehicles thus putting the lives of people in danger?” asked Zile Singh, a volunteer of the Punjab Durga Sewa Dal.

More than 300 volunteers of the Sewa Dal have been helping the police in managing the crowd and traffic during the 10-day long annual fair at the Naina Devi shrine.

“Every year, we, more than 80 villagers, go on a pilgrimage. We visit various temples and gurudwaras in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh by hiring a truck. This is a cheaper mode of transportation,” said Kuldip Singh, a villager from Punjab.

A senior police official said: “We have received orders from our seniors not to check any vehicle which is carrying devotees during the fair.

“Though the police know that some of the trucks plying on the roads are unfit to be on the road, they are unable to do anything as this might affect the movement of the pilgrims.”

The same problem occurs during the fairs at other famous Himachal shrines like Jawalaji, Chintpurni, Chamunda Devi, Bajreshwari and Kiratpur Sahib.

Inspector-general of police (law and order) S.R. Mardi said: “We have given instructions to the cops to fine all such vehicles but the unexpected rush of devotees affected the security arrangements.”

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