Vaishno Devi stampede: High-level probe ordered, Union minister rushes to Katra
President Ram Nath Kovind has expressed grief at the stampede incident at Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir’s Katra, in which a dozen people were killed and 20 others injured early on Saturday. Union minister Nityanand Rai said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is monitoring the situation.
The stampede took place at around 2.45am, Jammu and Kashmir Police chief Dilbag Singh told news agency ANI. “As per initial reports, an argument broke out which resulted in people pushing each other, followed by stampede,” he said. The incident happened near gate number three outside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine atop Trikuta hills.
Watch: 12 killed in stampede at Vaishno Devi
A large number of devotes had gathered at the shrine for darshan on the first day of the new year. News agency AFP quoted a government official as saying that the toll can go higher “as the route to the hilltop shrine was packed with devotees”.
The Mata Vaishno Devi is one of the most revered Hindu shrines in India, with tens of thousands visiting to offer prayers every day.
Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said that a high-level enquiry has been ordered into the stampede incident, which will be headed by Principal Secretary (Home) with ADGP (Jammu) and Divisional Commissioner (Jammu) as members.
Sinha also announced ex-gratia of ₹10 lakh for the family of those killed in the incident and ₹2 lakh for kin of the injured. The central government too has announced ex-gratia of ₹2 lakh for the families of the deceased and ₹50,000 for those whose family members have been injured.
"Extremely saddened by the loss of lives. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.
Union minister Jitendra Singh has rushed to Katra to take stock of the situation.
The pilgrimage to the shrine, which was briefly stopped after the stampede, has now resumed.
The head priest of the shrine, Pandit Sudarshan, has appealed to the pilgrims to stay calm and avoid creating chaos at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan.
One of the devotees, Prince from Punjab's Gurdaspur, said that he saw many injured people after the incident. "The shrine board should allow only those number of devotees which it can manage," he said, claiming that many of the injured were not able to receive medical aid.
The cave shrine is situated at an altitude of 5,200 feet in the Reasi district and generally attracts close to a million devotees every year.
The operations of the pilgrimage site are managed by the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, which provides battery car and ropeway services to the pilgrims to reach the top of Trikuta hills for darshan.