In one of the worst tragedies of its kind, a horrific stampede at a Durga temple in Madhya Pradesh Sunday left at least 105 people dead, Chief Secretary Anthony Disa said. Witnesses and officials said more than 100 others were injured in the tragedy at the Ratangarh temple, located in a forested part of Datia district, 390 km north of the state capital and 55 km from Datia town. Officials admitted that the death toll could rise as many of the injured were in critical condition.
Most of the dead were women and children, crushed by an army of pilgrims who began to flee a bridge over the river Sindh following a rumour that it was collapsing. Some pilgrims, however, contended that the tragedy happened after police used batons to regulate the tens of thousands who had gathered on the last day of Navaratri festival. An estimated 2.5 lakh people had massed all around the Maa Ratangarh Wali temple, a police officer said. About 35,000 people were at the site of the tragedy alone.
Just how the stampede happened was in dispute. But once it happened, the religious event turned bloody. A large number of people jumped in panic into the Sindh river from the bridge to escape getting stampeded. As the river was in spate, many of those who plunged into it were washed away. Survivors complained that it took three to four hours for any help to reach the temple area. Thick crowds all around the temple made the task of transporting the injured to hospitals difficult.
Some were rushed to a hospital at Datia and others to Gwalior. Deputy Inspector General of Police D.K. Arya told IANS that many pilgrims were critically injured. He added that some were missing after falling off the bridge. Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Antony Disa pledged to take action against those responsible for the stampede.
He said more than 20 bodies had been flushed out of the river. A judicial enquiry has been ordered into the disaster. Some devotees complained that the number of policemen deployed to control the crowds was grossly inadequate. One account put the number of policemen at less than 10. But after the disaster, more police personnel were rushed to the temple area, partly to tackle the mob ire.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a compensation of Rs.1.5 lakh to the kin of each of those killed. Datia legislator Narottam Mishra, who is also the state government spokesman, blamed the stampede on a rumour that the bridge on the river near the temple was collapsing. An angry crowd later stoned police personnel, injuring 12 men, including two officers.
Congress leader Ajay Singh alleged that many of the victims died because they remained without medical help for a long time. A near similar tragedy in 2006 left 49 people dead in the temple area. It was then that authorities built a bridge over the Sindh river. Ironically, that bridge was involved in Sunday’s stampede.—IANS