Even before friends and family of the 16 pilgrims who died in Tuesday’s stampede here could begin to come to terms with their loss, organisers and the administration started playing the blame game.
Nearly 400,000 had gathered at the Shantikunj Ashram on the banks of the Ganges to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Shri Ram Sharma Acharya, founder of the Akhil Vishwa Gayatri Pariwar that has a huge following.
For several minutes after the mishap, no disaster management team had arrived. The yajnas continued even as people were being carried away to hospitals. The 10-bed hospital that the organisers had set up to deal with emergency situations also proved incapable of handling the crisis.
The police blamed the ashram authorities for not involving them and the district administration in the management of the five-day Gayatri Mahakhumbh, which began on November 6.
“We were asked to manage the outer security arrangements. Internal arrangements were being looked after by the organisers themselves,” said Uttarakhand deputy inspector of police Sanjay Gunjyal. The police said the organisers had not even informed them that they were expecting such a massive crowd.
The Gayatri Pariwar, however, denied the allegation. “A senior minister of Uttarakhand was at our inaugural function, so was a former chief minister and a central minister. And they all knew what a mammoth function we were organising," said Vireshwar, spokesperson of the pariwar.
A magisterial inquiry has been ordered to probe the cause and circumstances leading to the stampede. Before the event began, organisers had claimed that adequate arrangements had been made to manage as many as 5 million devotees.