The desperation for a last glance of Dr Syedna Buhranuddin, the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, became a nightmare after crowding and chaos led to a stampede outside Saifee Mahal in Malabar Hill, killing 18 and injuring 60. The incident occurred in the wee hours of Saturday.
It was a tragedy that could have been avoided with better planning by those close to the late leader and proper coordination with the police.
While the police said the community members failed to inform them of the number of people expected to visit, some blamed it on police mismanagement. A probe into the reason/s behind the incident is expected.
A senior police officer blamed those close to the late leader for the tragedy. He said Syedna’s death took place at 9am on Friday but the official announcement was made in mosques only at 11.30am. Also, there was talk of the funeral being held in the evening, but it was shifted to Saturday morning.
Sources, however, said that considering the fact Syedna had a huge following in the city, the police should have anticipated a large congregation outside Saifee Mahal. “The Special Branch 1 ought to have told the commissioner about it,” a source added.
Home minister RR Patil is said to be dissatisfied with the way the police handled the situation.
The police said that around 9.30pm on Friday people started pouring in from the city and outside to pay their respects to the leader. By 1am on Saturday, people were stopped from paying tribute and, by 1.30am, the gates of Saifee Mahal were closed.
“Initially, there was no proposal to let people pay their respects at Saifee Mahal. This decision was changed at the last minute and SMSes were sent saying people could come to Saifee Mahal. When the crowd started swelling, people started being barred from entering the bungalow, which resulted in confusion and suffocation,” an IPS officer said.
The police were told that around 5,000-6,000 people would be expected. However, within hours, the number increased drastically, making it difficult for the police as well as the community volunteers to manage the crowd. If the police are to be believed, at least 80,000 people had gathered outside Saifee Mahal.
“People entered from the main entry to Saifee Mahal, which is narrow. When many realised that the exit on AG Bell Road was broader, they started gathering there,” said a senior officer.
What they didn’t realise was that the AG Bell Road, which slants and becomes narrower, had a dead end just a few yards from the Saifee Mahal gate, which is around 12-15 metres broad.
“Many started feeling suffocated, but there was no way to enter. And even more were continuing to come on AG Bell Road, not realising the situation. We finally managed to move people to the lane that leads to Malabar Hill police station through the gate of Chandan Mala building on the road,” the officer added.
Senior inspector Vinay Bagade said, “At least 200-300 policemen, including two platoons of the State Reserve Police Force and three platoons of the Law and Order Reserve Force, were brought in to control the situation.”
Additional chief secretary (Home) Amitabh Rajan said, “I held a meeting with officers at the commissioner’s office. We took a stock of the situation... how it was handled and the lessons drawn from it.”
Arrangements made for the procession
The traffic police had requested citizens to avoid going towards Sahaydri Guest house in Malabar Hill, Teen Patti Junction, Sukh Sagar, Opera House, Prathna Samaj, SVP Road and Saifee Mosque in Bhendi Bazaar unless it was important and unavoidable. These arrangements were made for the funeral procession of Dr Syedna Buhranuddin, the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community. The procession started from Saifee Mahal in Malabar Hill, his residence, to a mosque in Bhendi Bazar for the burial. S Talegaonkar, assistant commissioner of police (traffic control room) said, “Thousands were present for the funeral and, hence, to avoid inconvenience to motorists, we had flashed this information via news channels. Roads towards Manav Mandir and Thakurdwar had to be closed. However, as the procession moved from one area to the other, the traffic movement in that area attained normalcy. There is no estimate as to how many hours the traffic movement was affected as it changed area-wise, depending on the procession’s movement.”