Ninety one people, most of them women or children, were killed in a stampede at the Ratangarh Mata Temple in Datia district on Sunday morning.
Chief Secretary Anthony J.C. De Sa said a rumour triggered the stampede. “There is a bridge 1.5 kilometres from the temple,” he said. “A section of the railing broke, setting off a rumour that the bridge was collapsing. Around 25,000 people were on it at the time.”
The bridge across the river Sind is 400 metres long and 7 metres wide. “It was built less than four years ago and is in good condition,” Mr. De Sa told The-Hindu. He did not confirm if the railing had broken, as was reported, after a collision earlier in the day involving a tractor trolley.
By 6 p.m. all the bodies were sent to the district headquarters hospital for post mortem. Eighty injured persons were admitted to four hospitals in Datia and Gwalior. The dead included 42 women and 31 children.
He said 60 police officers, led by Deputy Superintendent B.N. Basave, were handling security at the temple which draws huge crowds during Navaratri and Bhai Dooj. “We estimate the crowd during the incident at 50 to 60 thousand. In the course of the day, one lakh people visited the temple.”
Mr. Basave and other officers were injured in stone pelting by relatives of the victims who were angry about an alleged delay in rescue operations. A judicial enquiry has been ordered by Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan. The government has declared a compensation of Rs. 1.5 lakhs each to the families of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 to those seriously injured, the Chief Secretary said.
Dilip Arya, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Chambal Range), denied reports that caning by the police to control the crowd aggravated the situation. “No lathi charge has taken place. Also, the deaths are due to stampede and not drowning, as the media has reported... We are trying to find out who started the rumour [about the bridge collapse]. But rescue is our first priority,” he told this newspaper in the afternoon.
Rescue operations were hampered by a traffic jam more than 7 km long on the single approach road to the temple. Help came in full strength only in the afternoon. Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) D. Sreenivasa Rao said three companies of special armed forces were pressed into the rescue operations. The Datia Police Control Room will also offer the services of a helpline (07522 237884). Mr. De Sa, Director General of Police Nandan Dube and Health Minister Narottam Mishra reached the spot on a helicopter from Bhopal.
The Opposition Congress and the CPI(M) have demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister and Mr. Mishra who is an MLA from the district.