October 18, 2013

INDIA: 110 Pilgrims Killed In Human Stampede On Bridge Leading To Ratangarh Temple In Madhya Pradesh on Sunday. :/

The Times of India
written by P Naveen & Amarjeet Singh
Monday October 14, 2013

BHOPAL - The Navratra festivities ended in tragedy when 110 pilgrims including women and children were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede on a bridge leading to the historic Ratangarh temple in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday. It was a disastrous re-run of the 2006 stampede when more than 50 pilgrims had got washed away falling in panic into the Sindh river off the same bridge in 2006.

Eyewitnesses said over-crowding of the bridge, which is 500m long and 10m wide, caused one of its railings to snap, which led some people to shout that the bridge was collapsing. With more than a lakh of people for the pilgrimage, this set off panic with people trying to rush to safety, which caused the stampede.

Unconfirmed reports said police lathi charge to control pilgrims from jumping a queue created alarm and drove people in one direction, leading to sudden surge of people on the bridge that caused one of its railings to snap, which in turn created the panic. Sindh, a tributary of the Yamuna, is engorged with rains in past weeks and many people also fell into the river, the reason why administrative officials fear that the death toll could rise.

The bridge itself was a ghastly sight with bodies sprawled even as rescue teams from Gwalior, a mere 75-odd km away, were delayed due to battered roads and a 10-km long traffic jam. Pilgrims said there were only nine constables and a sub-inspector manning more than one lakh people along the 500-metre bridge when the stampede occurred.

"We have counted 105 bodies so far. Several pilgrims died on way to hospital. The toll may rise," said chief medical and health officer RH Gupta. Director general of police Nandan Kumar Dubey put the toll so far to "around 85". Most of the lakh-odd pilgrims in Datia, around 405 km north of Bhopal, were from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ordered a judicial inquiry into the tragedy and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has expressed shock and anguish. The Ratangarh temple is 55 km from the Datia district headquarters.

In a huge administrative lapse, tractors and jeeps were allowed to carry pilgrims on the bridge.

Speaking to TOI, eyewitness Manoj Sharma, 28, said, "Police lathicharge worsened the crisis, forcing many to jump off the bridge." Sharma, a resident of Bhander village in Datia, was on his way to the temple along with his friends. Delaying relief work were mobs pelting stones at the police. Two cops, including a sub-divisional officer B N Basave, were assaulted by the angry crowds.

"We're yet to recover bodies from the river," said Chambal range DIG D K Arya. Chief Secretary, DGP and ADG intelligence flew to the spot on a chopper to inspect the immense damage. Senior BSP leader and former Congress MLA Rajendra Bharti alleged that the collector and SP were busy with election management in Basai, 85 km from the district headquarters, and did not take steps to ensure crowd management.

A team of more than 20 doctors has left for Datia. The casualty wards of district hospitals have been vacated for the injured. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh each to the kin of those killed. Leader of opposition Ajay Singh has appealed the chief minister to increase the compensation.

Datia: A busy pilgrimage

Datia is in northern Madhya Pradesh and an ancient town that finds its earliest mention in the Mahabharata as 'Daityavakra'. The town is 75-odd km from Gwalior, 325 km south of Delhi and 405km north of Bhopal, and a thriving pilgrimage with many temples including the Sidhapeeth of Shri Peetambara Devi, Bagulamukhi Devi and Gopeshwar. Peetambara Peeth is famous as a Shaktipeeth at the entrance of Datia. This important pilgrimage is around three km from Datia railway station. Apart from the historic Dhumavati Mai temple, it also has Vankhandeshwar temple, said to be a Mahabharat period temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

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