Vaishno Devi tragedy: Stampede survivors demand findings of L-G Manoj Sinha’s probe panel
While the status of a probe marked by lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha to a three-member panel headed by home secretary Shaleen Kabra remained unclear, the survivors of a stampede at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine said they reserved the right to know who was responsible for the criminal negligence that led to the killing of 12 pilgrims and injuries to 15 others.
Following the stampede at 2.15 am at the shrine on January 1, Sinha had marked the probe to a panel headed by Kabra. It has additional director general of police Mukesh Singh and Jammu divisional commissioner Raghav Langer as its members.
The panel had to submit its report within a week’s time to the LG.
Survivors from Mumbai, Pathankot and Prayagraj, who spoke to HT over the phone, recalled the nightmarish experience. “We reserve the right to know, whose fault it was that took away 12 precious lives and injured scores. We had gone there to seek blessings of the deity for a prosperous New Year and not to get trampled,” says Sumit Kumar, 32, of Pathankot, a first-timer to the shrine.
“I am still recovering from a fracture and trauma. We were coming out of the shrine after paying obeisance. What we saw was a huge rush of pilgrims and none to manage them,” he adds.
“Though the authorities announced compensation for the dead and injured, money can never compensate a human life. Those who died there had also gone to pay obeisance and seek blessing for a prosperous New Year for themselves and their families. They didn’t return but their bodies,” he recalls.
“It is my second birth. I am still in a state of shock. I have a two-year-old son. My parents and my wife are now reluctant to send me again to the shrine,” he says.
“Amid the stampede, I fell with my chest facing the ground. Six to seven people were on my back and I was gasping for breath. Even now I get goose-bumps while recalling the horrifying incident,” he says.
Sumit said, “It is my right to know that who was behind this criminal negligence. I even called shrine board numbers in Katra, but didn’t get any satisfactory reply from them.”
Sumit felt that the delay in making public the report could be a cover up to shield guilty.
Ashish Kumar Jaiswal, 25, from Prayagraj, said, “I am still having a bandage on my arm. I am recovering from a fracture and the deep scars the stampede left on my body and my psyche”.
Jaiswal claimed he didn’t get a single penny as compensation from the authorities.
“I have been visiting the shrine for the past seven years on the eve of New Year but I had never had seen such an incident before,” he says.
He also demanded that the inquiry report be made public, the guilty held accountable and tried under the law of the land.
Vikas Tiwari, 35, from Mumbai said, “Me and my brother Rishikesh were injured in the stampede. We had visited the shrine umpteen times but what unfolded on the fateful night was very frightening”.
“It was sheer negligence by the government. The findings of the probe must be made public,” he says.
Reasi district SSP Shailendra Singh said, “Since a high-level probe has been ordered, all the information has to be shared by the committee. We are authorised to speak only after the report is submitted”.
He also refused to divulge FIR numbers, Sections and the accused. SHO, Katra, Sunil Sharma also refused to share any information.
Repeated calls and messages to home secretary Shaleen Kabra went unanswered.
The LG’s probe panel was constituted to examine in detail causes/reasons behind the incident, point out lapses, fix the responsibility, and suggest appropriate standard operating procedures (SOPs) and measures for preventing the recurrence of such incidents in the future.