Datia: Tragedy struck Dussehra festivities in Madhya Pradesh's Datia district, nearly 400 km from Bhopal, with at least 115 people killed and over 80 injured in a stampede near a temple yesterday morning.
The stampede was apparently triggered by a rumour that the bridge across Sindh river the devotees were crossing was about to collapse. About five lakh devotees had gathered at the Ratangarh temple, located 80 km away from Datia, with over 25,000 crossing the bridge when the stampede happened.
Survivors alleged that a group of people, which wanted to cut through the long queue at the bridge, spread the rumour that it was on the verge of collapse, resulting in panic which caused the stampede. Some people are feared to have fallen into the river while a few are still missing.
Stampede survivors allege that the police used baton charge to control the crowd, leading to more panic, a charge denied by a top police official of the state. Some eyewitnesses even blamed the police for spreading the rumour.
Survivors allege that there was little help provided to them at the site. A man, who lost four of his relatives including his two-year-old son, told NDTV, "There was no help. I had to hire a car to carry them to the hospital."
Though the state government ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident, it seems no lessons have been learnt from an incident in 2006 in which over 50 people were washed away by the river. The bridge was constructed after that tragedy.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, expected to visit the site today, was attacked by senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh as politics over the tragedy began ahead of the state assembly elections due in November.
"Reason for Ratangarh Mata disaster? Police was charging Rs 200 from each tractor and allowing in no traffic zone. Good Governance in MP?" Mr Singh tweeted late last night.
To which Mr Chouhan tweeted back, "Politics on any tragedy is unwanted. The focus should be on attending to the injured & take steps to avoid any such incidents in the future."
Another Congress leader, Ajay Maken, demanded Mr Chouhan's resignation over the tragedy. "Congress is hurt that the Madhya Pradesh government hasn't learnt anything from previous cases. They are answerable and cannot evade responsibility," Mr Maken said.
With the model code of conduct enforced ahead of polls, the state government has said it will take the Election Commission's approval to announce compensation to the victims.