12 dead, 15 injured in Vaishno Devi stampede past midnight; probe ordered
JAMMU: A stampede at the 700-year-old Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu early on Saturday, possibly triggered by a brawl between some young men, killed 12 people and injured 15, people aware of the matter said.
The tragic incident took place just 300metres from the Holy Cave located in the folds of the three-peaked mountain, at about 2.15 am, said Ramesh Kumar, chief executive officer of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board mandated to maintain the shrine and regulate the pilgrimage to one of the most revered Hindu shrines.
Jammu and Kashmir governor Manoj Sinha has ordered an inquiry into the stampede and set up a panel headed by the union territory’s principal secretary home Shaleen Kabra. Additional director general of police Mukesh Singh and Jammu divisional commissioner Raghav Langer will be the other members of the panel.
Watch what happened at Vaishno Devi moments after deadly stampede claimed 12 lives
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and minister Jitendra Singh to take stock of the situation. “Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” PM Modi said in a tweet.
President Ram Nath Kovind said he was very distressed to know about the stampede and offered condolences to the bereaved families. Home minister Amit Shah said he was deeply pained by the tragic accident. Defence minister Rajnath Singh said the tragedy was “heart-wrenching”.
The circumstances that led to the stampede are still unclear.
“Preliminary information from the scene suggests there was an altercation among some young boys, and within seconds, there was a stampede situation, said director general of police Dilbag Singh.
Aditya Sharma, a pilgrim, said, according to news agency PTI, that there was a heavy rush of devotees and some people who were sleeping on the floor got crushed.
Local shopkeepers insist that the route to the hilltop shrine was packed with devotees, far more than could be accommodated without falling foul of the social distancing norms mandated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Video clips of the passage leading to the sanctum sanctorum, the destination of the pilgrims who spent New Year’s Eve covering the 12-km trek from the starting point of the yatra, Ban Ganga, show dense crowds in the barricaded space.
In one clip of the situation after the stampede, pilgrims can be seen trying to resuscitate a person lying on the ground.
Jagdev Singh, the duty officer at the police post on the hilltop, said the stampede took place near the X-ray machine, which leads to the shrine.
Eight of the deceased were identified as Arun Pratab Singh (30), Dharam Veer Singh (35), Vineet Kumar (38) and Shamta Singh (35) of Uttar Pradesh, Vinay Kumar (24) and Sonu Panday (24) of Delhi, Mamta (38) of Haryana and Desraj Kumar (26) of Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir, the officials said, according to PTI.
Raghav Langer, divisional commissioner Jammu, said the bodies are being sent home as they are being identified. Langer said the administration has gotten in touch with the families of 10 people who died.
Langer didn’t respond to allegations that the shrine board allowed more people than could have been accommodated safely, insisting that the laid-down standard operating procedure was followed. He did not elaborate, saying an inquiry has already been ordered.