The dead included women and children were trapped as the Bridge that runs over the Sindh River leading to the temple collapsed, causing a stampede and causing many of the pilgrims dropping into the water under the bridge.
More than 100 people were also injured as a result of the stampede on narrow bridge to the historic Ratangarh temple in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday. This is shocking re-run of the 2006 tragedy at the same site when 50 pilgrims were washed away.
The bridge over the swollen Sindh river, which leads to the temple was chock-a-block with over one thousand devotees from Madhya Pradesh and neighboring UP on auspicious Navami day.
Rumours had passed round about an impending collapse of the bridge after a police lath charge on devotees triggered panic. While scores of pilgrims were trampled, others were drowned after jumping into the swollen river. Bodies lay sprawled on the bridge even as rescue teams from Gwalior were delayed due to battered roads and a 10-km traffic jam.
There were only nine constables and a sub-inspector manning the over-lakh crowd on the 500-metre long bridge when the tragedy struck.
Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has ordered a judicial inquiry into the tragedy and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has expressed anguish. The Ratangarh temple is located 55 km from the Datia district headquarters and 405 km north of Bhopal.
“We have counted 100 bodies so far. Several pilgrims died on way to hospital. The toll may rise manifold,” a senior police officer told TOI.
The tragedy was sparked off by rumours that the bridge on Sindh River – through which pilgrims were heading towards temple – was collapsing. In a huge lapse on part of the administration, heavy vehicles carrying pilgrims were allowed to ply on the bridge. Eye-witnesses claim a clash between two groups of villagers on the bridge forced a minor lathicharge by police which triggered the stampede.
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. A massive traffic jam on way to the temple hampered relief work and mobs began pelting stones at the police. Two cops, including a sub-divisional officer of police (SDOP) B N Basave was assaulted by the mob.
“The toll could touch 120. We are yet to recover bodies from the river,” Chambal range DIG D K Arya told TOI. Chief secretary, DGP and ADG intelligence have air dashed to the spot on a chopper.
Senior BSP leader and former Congress MLA Rajendra Bharti alleged the collector and SP were busy with election management in Basai, 85 km from the district headquarters, and did not take steps to ensure efficient crowd management.
A team of more than 20 doctors have been dispatched to the spot, and a high alert has been sounded in surrounding Shivpuri district. The casualty wards of district hospitals have been vacated. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh each to the kin of the victims. Leader of opposition Ajay Singh has appealed the chief minister to increase the compensation.
It was religious frenzy compounded by administrative failure that led to a similar tragedy in 2006 over the bridge on the Sindh river.