Outrage mounted in India yesterday after at least 115 devotees were crushed to death or drowned near a Hindu temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, the site of another deadly stampede only seven years ago.
As survivors of Sunday’s tragedy on a bridge recounted how desperate mothers threw their children into the water below, authorities came under fire over policing levels amid claims the panic was aggravated by baton-charging.
Medics were also battling to save the lives of 10 people classified as critically injured after the stampede in the town of Ratangarh.
“The death toll has now gone up to 115 and more than 110 injured,” Deputy Police Inspector general D. K. Arya said. “Ten of those are in a very critical state.”
A journalist at the site said the operation to recover the bodies had been finished and police investigators were now scouring the site.
The tragedy cast a long shadow over celebrations marking the end of one of the holiest festivals in the Hindu calendar.
Police said the panic had been sparked by rumors that the bridge was about to collapse.
Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple when the stampede took place while there were about 20,000 people on the bridge which spans the river Sindh. Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, witnesses said, on the penultimate day of the nine-day Navaratri festival which is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga.
The disaster comes only seven years after another stampede outside the same temple when more than 50 people were crushed to death while crossing the river, after which authorities built the bridge.
“Cops learnt no lessons from 2006 stampede,” read a headline in the Hindustan Times, saying the tragedy “underlines the sheer ineptitude of the authorities responsible for the safety and security” of devotees.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a senior figure in the Bharatiya Janata Party, was facing calls to resign over the tragedy.
“Had there been adequate police, administration and health officials at the temple site, the loss of lives could have been averted,” said Kantilal Bhuria, the leader of the Indian Congress party in the state.
However, speaking on a visit to a hospital in the Datia District to meet some of the victims, Chouhan said a commission of inquiry would establish exactly what had happened and who was to blame.
“This is a great tragedy which has shaken me deeply,” he told reporters. “By tomorrow a judicial commission will be set up and I will request it to complete its probe within two months.