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Numbers do not seem to matter

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The break between ancient and modern in India is never as apparent as when numbers are discussed. India was once sufficiently concerned about numbers to invent an efficient way of writing them: the place value system, now popularized as the "invention of zero". A cursory look at newspapers reveals that numbers do not matter to the administrative apparatus of our country.

At 11:45 PM on Nov 19, IBN Live reported:

In a tragic incident in Bihar, a stampede took place at a ghat the Adalat Ganj area in Patna during the Chhath festival on Monday. At least 20 people were feared dead while several others got injured during the stampede.

The injured were rushed to the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH). The stampede was triggered after a bridge made of bamboo collapsed due to heavy rush.

In a report datelined 8:14 AM of Nov 20, the same IBN Live reported:

The Bihar government has ordered a high-level inquiry into the tragic deaths of 17 people during a stampede at the Adalat Ganj ghat in Patna as people thronged the place to celebrate the Chhath festival on Monday. Eyewitnesses had claimed that there was no assistance from the administration even as the situation slowly spiralled out control.

The weasel words “feared dead” could well mean that the reporter made up the number. Nevertheless this strange evolution of the estimated death toll leads one to dig deeper into the reasons why the numbers of dead and injured are still not clear.

In a carefully written report datelined Nov 20, the Hindu claimed:

“There was a stampede and a lot of confusion. We don’t know the exact number of casualties yet,” Bihar Director General of Police Abhayanand, who reached the site to supervise the rescue operations, told The Hindu on the phone.

Around 17 persons, including children are believed to have died in the tragic incident. The injured persons were rushed to the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH).

The Bihar authorities had built a bamboo bridge at Mahendru ghat, near Adalt Ghat. When the bridge collapsed the crowd of people were directed to another area at the banks, through an approach road. Since the crowd increased in the approach road, devotees carrying the puja material on the heads started to push through the crowd leading to a stampede.

NDTV reported with a dateline of 8:20 AM of Nov 20:

Fifteen people, including nine children, were killed and many others injured in a stampede in Patna on Monday. The incident took place during the Chhath puja at Adalatghat Ghat on the bank of river Ganga.

Patna District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar said, “There are total 15 dead bodies and their post-mortem was done last night. Out of these, nine are children.” He also said that two of the injured are undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Patna.

Reuters India reported at 2:50 AM on Nov 20 a figure which seems to have been picked up across the world:

At least 14 people were killed on Monday and many more were injured in a stampede during Chhath festival in Patna, police said.

Among the casualties were many children and women, who had come to the banks of the River Ganges in Bihar to enjoy Chhath, the biggest Hindu festival in the state.

Several people were still missing, the police said.

“We have identified 14 bodies so far and we fear the casualty figures may go up,” a senior police official told journalists.

In a article datelined 00:15 AM on Nov 20, BS reported:

Ten people, including four children and a woman, were killed today and several injured in a stampede at a Chhat Puja site at Adalatganj ghat on the bank of the river Ganges here.

Bihar Chief Secretary A K Sinha told a press conference late tonight that the incident, which occured at around 1900 hours, claimed ten lives.

He said bodies of four children and a woman were kept at Patna Medical College Hospital.

Earlier in the day, Senior Superintendent of Police (SP), City, Jayant Kant, had put the toll at 14.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the deaths did not take place due to bridge collapse but because of the stampede.

Most news sources seem to be quoting high ranking bureaucrats in the state. The variety of numbers (explicitly pointed out in the last report) does not seem to be evolving consistently with time, as you might expect if there is a systematic effort to track the injured and dead. This variety of numbers is the clearest signal you can get about the complete lack of organized disaster recovery. Today it was in Patna, but you have probably seen the same happen across all states of India. Lack of official help causes bystanders to lend a helping hand: taking injured people to nearby hospitals. If such people die due to injuries, then they are seldom counted by officials.

One can only say that lackadaisical administration is causing uncounted deaths across India, even today, more than 60 years after independence.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

November 20, 2012 at 3:49 am

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