At least 109 people, including children, were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede on a crowded bridge leading to a temple in northern Madhya Pradesh on Sunday, with many of the devotees leaping to their death in the water below.
Officials put the number of dead at 89. The toll is expected to rise as many of the victims of the tragedy at Ratangarh temple in Datia district, 350 km north of Bhopal, were in a critical condition, deputy inspector general, Chambal range, DK Arya said. Divers were looking for survivors and bodies that may have been swept away by the strong current of River Sindh.
Most of the victims of the tragedy were women and children, police said.
“At least 89 people, including 31 women and 17 children, have died and more than 115 injured,” Arya had said on Sunday.
The incident in Datia brought back memories of a similar stampede at the same place in 2006, when at least 20 devotees had died. It also put the spotlight on poor crowd-control planning by the authorities that have made stampedes a recurrent feature at religious congregations.
Although the exact cause of Sunday’s stampede was not yet known, eyewitnesses said it was triggered by police using baton to control the crowd crossing a bridge connecting to the shrine. The district administration, however, said a rumour that the bridge was about to collapse led to the stampede.
Most died in the ensuing stampede, while others drowned in the river underneath.
The death toll could rise as the condition of at least 10 of the injured was serious and divers were still fishing out bodies swept away by strong currents in the river, Arya said.
A scene after a stampede at the Sindhu River bridge through which pilgrims were heading towards the
Ratangarh temple in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh. PTI photo
After the incident, tension prevailed in the area as angry people started throwing stones at the police. About half a dozen police personnel reportedly sustained injuries.
There was a huge traffic jam on way to the temple and that hampered rescue operations.
Inspector-general of police (Chambal range) SM Afzal has ordered more reinforcement of police personnel.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has expressed deep sorrow and shock at the loss of lives of pilgrims who died in a stampede.
The Prime Minister extended his condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones in the incident and asked the administration to provide medical assistance to the injured.
"On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families", the Prime Minister added
A judicial inquiry into the incident was ordered chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who also announced a financial assistance of Rs. 1.5 lakh each to kin of the dead, Rs. 50,000 to those who have sustained serious injuries, and Rs. 25,000 to others hurt in the stampede.
The chief minister made the announcement after taking permission from the Election Commission, as the model code of conduct is in force in the state for the coming assembly elections. The state government has also sought the EC’s nod to airlift the severely injured victims.