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Avoidable Tragedy

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The bridge collapse in Morbi, Gujarat, that has claimed 141 lives, including those of 45 children, as well as the toll exacted by the stampede in Seoul, earlier, are examples of why crowd management is a necessary part of holding events involving a large number of people. This is all the more necessary in the case of holiday revelers, who are more likely to throw caution to the winds. This requires regulatory supervision at several levels, from the formulation of up to date rules, designation of supervisory responsibility, and training of ground level staff.

The Morbi incident will naturally take on political dimensions, as the final responsibility lies with the state government. One can be thankful that the politicians were sensitive enough to refrain from making accusations in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy but, seeing as there is an election coming up, it is bound to be hotly debated.

The immediate cause was the obvious overloading of the bridge, which is reported to have had a capacity of a hundred persons. Almost three times the number were reportedly allowed on to profit from the holiday demand. Not even the best maintained structure can bear such a load.

BJP has ruled Gujarat for so long that it cannot be fully aware of the nature of existing anti-incumbency. This is why it has left no stone unturned in its re-election bid. The opposition, too, has been exploring the traditional caste and community combinations to fight the battle. AAP, in particular, has introduced its brand of populism into the contest. Despite all that, the BJP was being considered ripe for a return to power. With this latest incident, the opposition has been provided a major opening, which it will seek to exploit to the fullest.

There is a lesson to be learned by other states and governments seeking to boost their tourism and hospitality sectors. Uttarakhand, for instance, is introducing ropeways and other infrastructure that needs to be well maintained and intelligently operated. This cannot be left merely to the operators, alone. Effective supervision by all authorities will be needed, from the police to the municipalities and regulatory bureaus. The government can begin with a review of present practices to ensure that no gaps exist. Where these are found, corrective measures should be speedily taken. Such avoidable loss of lives cannot be acceptable under any circumstances.