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'India sitting on a tinder-box of tragedies; guilty must be punished'
Sunday July 21, 2013 12:07 PM, Shilpa Raina, IANS

Is India sitting on a "tinder box" of tragedies, waiting for accidents to happen that jolt the country's conscience for a while, before warnings go unheeded in the build-up to another tragedy round the corner? Concerned citizens say that unless our attitudes change and the guilty are held accountable and punished, such tragedies will continue to happen.

"We're sitting on a tinder box of tragedies; that is the tragedy of it all - lives are lost, again lives are lost, and we sit up and say 'Oh my god' each time," says noted sociologist Dipankar Gupta.

The Dec 16, 2012, gang-rape shocked the nation by its sheer brutality and galvanised the authorities to come up with stronger laws for protection of women - more than 60 years after India's independence.

The great loss of human lives in last month's Uttarakhand rain-flood tragedy was largely compounded by the unimpeded construction allowed along the river banks, ignoring warnings by green activists.

Likewise, in the Bihar mid-day meal tragedy - small warnings had been emanating over the months in the form of incidents of children falling ill due to unhygienically cooked food. The tragedy has given a bad name to a laudable initiative of the government that ensures children get to eat a nutritious hot meal once a day and along with it also helps stem school dropout rates.

Agreeing that tragedies like these were part of the "chalta hai" attitude of the authorities, Gupta told IANS that after each such incident "more panels are set up".

He said that events of these kinds receive wide publicity "but the real issue stays unattended".

"These are not accidents, they are systemic failures. The decision makers don't seem to want to take it on board. When it happens, they wake up and say, 'my god'."

"The tendency is to convert everything into a tragedy," he added.

Noted journalist and former MP Kuldip Nayar feels there is a certain insensitivity about Indian society that allows matters to come to a boiling point. "Our society is not sensitive enough.. it is not bothered about basic things," Nayar told IANS.

He termed the Bihar mid-day meal tragedy "a murder".

"In Bihar, it is really a murder... nothing happens, there is no accountability whatever (with regard to the mid-day meal scheme)."

At least 23 children died after eating insecticide-contaminated food served to them in a school in Bihar's Chhapra district.

Nayar agreed with Gupta that each time after a tragedy commissions are set up. "I have seen so many commission reports, none is implemented. There were some where even names of guilty are mentioned, but nothing happens.. due to political pressure or of top bureaucrats, all of which does not allow basic things to happen."

"Unless you punish the guilty, it will continue like this," he emphasised.

Sanjoy Hazarika, who has closely studied the impact of natural disasters on people and has written a book on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 in which over 3,000 people died, says it is not that the country lacks effective laws to tackle situations; the laws exist but are not implemented.

"Every time a new disaster happens it wakes us up. We don't seem to learn. There are no long-term sustainable solutions worked out," Hazarika, the founder-director of the Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, told IANS.

In the Uttarakhand disaster, over 1,000 people have officially been said to have been killed and over 5,000 are still missing, besides thousands of houses, hundreds of bridges and roads that were damaged.

Among past disasters is the 2004 Kumbakonam fire tragedy in Tamil Nadu that led to the death of nearly 100 primary school children. Flouting of safety standards led to the deaths when a gas cylinder burst and the thatched roofs caught fire.

The AMRI hospital fire tragedy in Kolkata in December 2011 led to the deaths of 93 patients. Here again, safety laws were bypassed.

Not to be forgotten in all this is the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire in New Delhi in which 59 people perished, mainly due to suffocation, and 103 were injured in the stampede.

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