Vaishno Devi: An avoidable tragedy
- The probe panel must investigate and reveal the reasons behind the tragedy
At least 12 people died and over a dozen were injured in a stampede at the Vaishno Devi shrine, atop the Trikuta hills, about 50 kilometres from Jammu, on January 1. The Jammu and Kashmir administration has set up a panel, headed by the Union Territory’s principal secretary (home) Shaleen Kabra, to investigate the incident and directed it to submit its report in a week. The tragedy happened “due to a scuffle between two groups of pilgrims”, the shrine’s board said.
While this is the first tragedy at the shrine, there have been several instances of similar accidents in temples. The worst accident happened near Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district on October 13, 2013, which left 115 people dead and 100-plus injured. Most stampedes are often a result of administrative mismanagement, the police’s inability to control crowds, and the failure of pilgrims to follow movement protocols. In this episode, too, people allege that pilgrims were allowed without registration; there were no barricades to demarcate those going in and out of the sanctum sanctorum’s narrow gate; and the lathi charge by policemen once they found the crowd going out of control. Before the pandemic, the annual yatra drew over 10 million pilgrims. In 2021, the daily cap was lowered to 25,000 due to Covid-19. This new year, 35,000 people were officially allowed despite the early signs of a third wave.
The probe panel must investigate and reveal the reasons behind the tragedy. The administration must learn from the mistakes, punish those who failed to perform their duties, and set up systems that prevent such tragic loss of lives.