Jaipur Lit Fest Venue Unsafe? A Possible Last-Minute Twist To Tale

Nearly 10,000 people crowded into a lawn meant to hold around 300 during last year's lit-fest. The session was being attended by former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who had trouble reaching the stage and leaving the venue.

Jaipur: The venue of the world famous Jaipur literature festival, Diggi Palace, could be running into a controversy even before this year's programme has started.

A petition has been filed in court after the state government, ignoring the security concerns raised by the police in an internal report, gave a go ahead to the venue. The matter will be heard a day before the festival begins -- on January 20.

Concern about stampede looms large in a copy of the report, accessed by NDTV. Last year, around 35,000 people were inside the venue, which can hold only 2,000.

The report also said there was a threat perception to the festival, which has become one of the world's most respected literary gatherings for bringing together some of the best writers over the years.

Ravi Dutt Gaur, the police officer who raised questions about security and denied permission to the venue, was transferred last week.

AK Jain, the petitioner's advocate, said though permission was denied on January 1, it was given on January 4 following "some kind of pressure".

Ram Pratap Diggi, the owner of Diggi Palace - the Diggis' family home which was converted into a heritage hotel 15 years ago -- said while the footfall has increased, security arrangements have also been upgraded.

"Even if 35,000 people come, they don't gather in one place, as programmes are held at 7-8 spots. We make sure each has multiple exits and fire marshalls," he said.

But a section within the family added to the controversy. "They have exits, but no demarcations. In case of a stampede, that is a security concern," said Mr Diggi's nephew Gajjraj Diggi.

This year's fest will see the keynote address being delivered by Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood. Among those attending will be political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, columnist Ben Macintyre, Jamaican Man-Booker winner Marlon James and British author Patrick French. The festival directors are writers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple.