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Vol. XXXIII No. 11, September 16-30, 2023

Event disaster raises the question of public accountability

-- by A Special Correspondent

“I don’t know how long it will take for me to get back into crowded spaces,” writes a Twitter user in an email to the organizers of a concert recently held at ECR’s Adityaram Palace Grounds. The event was a traumatic experience not only for her but for many other concertgoers; acute overcrowding at the venue resulted in a crushing throng of bonafide ticket holders – who paid thousands for their passes – unable to enter the venue. Stuck outside, many members of the audience reported experiencing anxiety and panic attacks that persist still. Unfortunately, leaving the premises was not an easy task either, for the entry and exit points were not well planned. Multiple reports of molestation are emerging from those caught in the chaos. Audience statements reveal that the situation inside the venue was not ideal, either – with little or no usher guidance, many reportedly bypassed barricades and moved between different ticketed sections, causing confusion. The sound setup was reportedly inadequate too, prompting many to voice complaints about the quality of experience they received. The general public was affected by the pandemonium as well. Lack of proper parking translated to congestion on ECR, severely delaying travel times. Those whose houses were along the route to the venue found themselves unable to return homes for hours together. It is reported that CM MK Stalin’s own convoy was caught in the traffic, prompting the Tambaran City Police to launch an inquiry into the chaos. Many are wondering who ought to be held accountable for the incident. The music director, who should have taken better care of fans? The event organizer, who should have made the necessary arrangements? The promoter who sold the tickets?

The truth is that there cannot be a single point of blame. Many teams go into organizing a large-scale public event, and in this particular case, they seem to have all done a shoddy job. The event management team is responsible for scouting the venue and making the necessary arrangements for comfort and safety. This includes planning smooth passageways from entry through to seating and exit as well as crowd facilities ranging from parking and refreshments to restrooms and medical. Public events such as these must apply for and procure licenses from various professional and civic bodies to ensure that the attendees are protected – for instance, NOCs (No Objection Certificates) are required from the police to ensure that the security arrangements are adequate to maintain law and order, from the traffic authorities to plan for smooth traffic flow and so on. The system is meant to look after the interests of concertgoers and the public alike. Take emergency preparedness, for instance – should an unfortunate incident such as a fire have taken place at the venue, the inadequate passageway and lack of security would have resulted in a stampede. As for the promoters, their job is to sell the tickets. There are only so many that can be sold, based on the venue’s capacity. By all accounts, there are suspicions that a much larger number of concert tickets were sold than was possible to accommodate. Investigations are reportedly underway, but can the system not have checks and balances in place to prevent such fiascos, especially when the crowds amount to the tens of thousands?

The investigation and redress process cannot confine itself to treating the incident as a one-off failure. The need of the hour is an administrative audit of the lacunae in the permissions process. The authorities have experience in successfully handling far greater crowds in the past, after all – from large-scale religious and political events to processions, it has seen it all. Why should commercial events be given a long rope?

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