Devotees risk their lives and limbs on the granite and limestone stairway of the temple in Ranchi. (Hardeep Singh)
A flight of 400 stairs leading to the revered Pahari Mandir in Ranchi is stylish to the hilt, but functionally a disaster.
Made of black igneous granite and Kota stone (a fine-grained variety of limestone quarried in Kota district of Rajasthan) — both anti-skid in coarse form — the stairs are polished unintelligibly, which reduces friction and invites accidents when wet.
More than 4,000 people are thronging the temple, situated 2,140 feet above the sea level, daily to pay their obeisance to Lord Shiva during this holy month of Shravan. And if devotees and residents are to be believed, at least four dozen of them from the state and outside have slipped down the staircase, sustaining minor and major injuries since the Shravani rituals started in early July.
“The granite and limestone stairs do look beautiful, but they are too smooth for comfort. And if you are climbing up or down in the rain, you have to be extremely careful. Mishaps are routine when the stairs are wet,” said Bipin Singh, the president of Hill Area Citizen Forum, an organisation of people living around Ranchi Hill.
Singh added that last Sunday a woman from Dhurwa tripped at the 201st stair. “She was coming down after offering puja to Pahari Baba when she tumbled. She suffered spinal injuries and could not stand. Volunteers had to bring her down on a stretcher.”
Neeranjan Kumar, another resident, said at least 40 people — including a member of the well-known Jalan family of Kanpur — had slipped off the stairs this month.
“In fact, every day, one or two devotees trip and fall while coming downstairs. Most of them hurt their waist and spine. Some injuries are of serious nature. The authorities need to act before there is a fatal accident,” he added.
Palamau resident Randhir Kumar Singh, who visited Pahari Mandir with his family on Friday, totally agreed with Bipin Singh and Neeranjan Kumar.
“The stairway is very dangerous for the elderly. I had a tough time helping my septuagenarian mother negotiate the wet and slippery surface. While polishing has reduced friction, there is no monsoon maintenance to make the stairs safe for climbing,” he said, adding that besides regular devotees, many tourists too mounted the hilltop for a panoramic view of the capital city. “All their lives are at stake here,” he pointed out.
Subdivisional magistrate (SDM) Shekhar Jamuar, who is also the secretary of Pahari Mandir Vikas Samiti, admitted that the staircase, erected in 2008, was unsafe.
“When I was on duty at the temple on July 16, I too had slipped and rolled down some five stairs. Thanks to Pahari Baba, I did not sustain serious injuries,” he said.
Jamuar promised that the problem would be overcome very soon. “After Shravan festivities, we will hold a meeting of the Pahari Mandir Vikas Samiti to thrash out a solution. We will perhaps groove the stairs to increase friction, which will minimise chances of accidents,” he said.
Ranchi Regional Development Authority (RRDA) junior engineer Braj Bihari Prasad, who is in charge of raising a flight of stairs from the other side of Ranchi Hill, claimed they had already taken stopgap measures. “We have observed that the granite and Kota stone surfaces are becoming slippery when wet. So, we are using checker tiles for the new staircase. The mosaic structure increases friction,” he explained.
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