Allahabad: Officials at the Maha Kumbh mela premises had a tough time on Sunday as they found themselves caught between the incessant rush of devotees and the steady spin of rumour mills on Mauni Amavasya, the biggest bathing day.
As the bathing started early in the day, before the sunrise, rumours broke out that four middle-aged women had died in a stampede near the Sangam nose.
As the rumour spread, largely by the local newspapers, police forces rushed to the spot on a fact-finding mission. The state government’s media officials went into a tizzy, deluged by queries from reporters seeking details of the stampede.
Officials heaved a sigh of relief as soon as the reports of the incident turned out to be a mere rumours. Police officials said a “minor incident” occurred when some women devotees were pushed by the crowd from behind near the Fort.
Relief, however, was short-lived. Officials were informed of a road accident near Arail in which two tractor trolleys turned upside down, injuring around a dozen people.
Officials had a harrowing time trying to ascertain the facts, admitted Ashok Sharma, in-charge of the media at the Kumbh.
“We have checked reports, but the news of the accident too seems to have been mere rumour,” Sharma told IANS.
Rakesh Sharma, the chief executive officer of Prabhatam, the firm in charge of distributing information to media persons, also said reports of the stampede and the accident were not true.
By noon, there were several more rumours to contend with.
Reports were available of a bus accident, a clash between devotees and Rapid Action Force personnel near Mahaveer Marg, the presence of an unruly mob at Kali Road and drowning of many members of the Juna Akhada (a sect of ascetics who lead the bathing rituals).
The spokesman of the Juna Akhada however clarified that all members of the sect were safe and were returning to their tents.
Reports indicated that a pontoon bridge used by Juna Akahada had collapsed; that too turned out to be false.
With some news channels and local cable networks airing unconfirmed news, the state information department was forced to set up a 24x7 ‘rumour monitoring cell’ headed by a senior information official P.K. Singh.
This cell has since begun to screen all material and footage being aired and necessary clarifications and denials are being issued, Prabhat Mittal, director, Information and Public Relations department of the state government, told IANS.
The CCTV monitoring control room has 65 CCTV cameras; the people monitoring the cameras have also been briefed about the situation, a police official said.
Sunday saw the biggest crowds at the 55-day Kumbh, which happens once every 12 years. The Kumbh began on January 14 and culminates on March 10, on Shivratri, another auspicious bathing day.
Devesh Chaturvedi, divisional commissioner of Allahabad and senior official at the Kumbh confirmed to IANS that rumours were rife. He added, however, that they had been quelled in time and all was well at the Kumbh.
“Everything is fine, bathing is going on well, it’s a 60:40 ratio of people going out of Kumbh and coming in. I’m sure it will pass peacefully,” he said, reassuringly.