The stampede that killed 147 people, mostly children and women, at a north India hilltop shrine on Sunday was the 17th such incident in the past three years. Officials believed a prank caused the stampede.
The tragedy is another reminder that India still has a long way to go in putting in place a crowd-control mechanism, especially at places of worship on festival days.
<b1>"The country needs to shift from a response-centric approach to a preventive one to minimise casualties," said KM Singh, member of the National Disaster Management Authority, in Delhi. A team of National Disaster Response Force is assisting in rescue operations.
The stampede occurred around 11 am at Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district, 22 km from Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. Temple officials said about 25,000 worshippers of Mother Goddess, had gathered for the Sawan Navratra, an annual festival that began on Saturday.
Someone raised a false alarm of a landslide, triggering panic among devotees waiting in long lines for a glimpse of the deity. Batches of devotees returning from the temple ran down the road and crashed into pilgrims trekking up the 4-km road to the temple.
As people rushed down the narrow hill path, parts of the railings along a slope gave way under the massive human pressure, and several people fell to death. Women and children who stuck to the path were pushed to ground, and trampled.
"More than 120 people have died," said DS Minhas, state additional director general of police. Officials in Punjab where several critically injured were undergoing treatment said the toll was 147.