President Pranab Mukherjee helped the Telangana government avert a major stampede at Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s Ayuta Maha Chandi Yagam by not visiting it on 27 December. Mukherjee decided not to land his Indian Air Force helicopter at the yagam venue after seeing a massive fire that erupted out of the thatched roof of the yagam, barely 10 minutes before his scheduled arrival.
If a stampede had occurred, it could have had severe consequences, including loss of life, according to an assessment of the Telangana police department. Luckily, there was no loss of life or injuries to anyone due to the fire, which was put off by two fire tenders stationed there. Timely steps by the police also avoided a stampede at the yagam site.
At a highly confidential review at the Chief Minister’s farmhouse in Erravalli in Medak district, of what happened last Sunday — the last day of the five-day yagam attended by a galaxy of political leaders and celebrities and huge crowds — top police officials lauded the the crowd control measures adopted by their field officials. However, most of the credit for avoiding a mishap at the yagam, according to them, went to the quick decision of the President to return to his Rashtrapathi Nilayam in Secunderabad, without visiting the event. The President’s helicopter as well as two choppers hovered over the yagam site for about 10 minutes after witnessing the fire and smoke that billowed out of the tents.
In fact, the President’s visit was the highlight of the last day of the yagam held by KCR on a massive scale. Elaborate arrangements were made for Mukherjee’s visit to the venue at 1 pm, at the time of the “Poorna Ahuti”, marking the conclusion of the ritual. As per the schedule, the President was supposed to offer ghee into the main “homam”. However, minutes before that, around 12 noon, a fire broke out at the thatched roof of the yagam due to the heat from around 108 fire pits.
At the time, there were around 70,000 people, most of them women and children, on the premises. Even as the organisers announced that there was no need to panic, people ran for safety. KCR along with wife Sobha was participating in a ritual and ministers and officials were at their wits’ end to tackle the situation. However, Irrigation Minister Harish Rao, the nephew of the CM, and some police officials swung into action and evacuated the people from the venue. Though everything was sorted out in about 20 minutes, the police brass which reviewed the entire accident were horrified at the prospect of the President landing at the site precisely when the fire was still raging. “That certainly could have led to a stampede as the police force would have been hard pressed to attend to both duties, safety of the President and the people,” a senior official told The Sunday Guardian.
The decision not to land his helicopter at the yagam venue was taken by Mukherjee himself. The Medak police who were on security duty informed the President’s security about the fire. The President’s bodyguards who watched the flames advised him to return to Secunderabad as it would not be safe to land there. The President agreed to it and returned home. The police and civil officials of Telangana government heaved a sigh of relief as the fire was put out without causing any damage to people.