Datia: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday faced protests over his government’s inability to handle devotees at Ratangarh Temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district where a stampede on Sunday claimed at least 115 lives.
Chouhan faced protests when he reached at the district hospital in Datia to meet those who were injured in the incident. According to reports, the Chief Minister was heckled by protesters, who chanted slogans against the local administration and the police.
The protestors also alleged that the police officials took bribe from truck and bus drivers and allowed them to enter the no-traffic zone, which worsened the situation after the stampede.
Chief Minister Shivraj arrived here with the Director General of Police and the state Chief Secretary to review the situation.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Sunday’s stampede at Ratangarh Temple today rose to 115 with a number of people, who had carried away the bodies of their relatives, turning up for autopsy.
The local administration today decided to call off search operations to find those missing. Deputy Inspector General of Police Dilip Arya told reporters, “The death toll has increased to 115 and the rescue operation is over.”
The stampede, which also left over 100 injured, was triggered by rumours yesterday that a river bridge the devotees were crossing was about to collapse.
The DIG said a number of people, who had carried away the bodies of their near and dear ones, are now turning up for autopsy, which is mandatory for taking compensation.
The state government had ordered a judicial inquiry into the mishap which was a shocking re-run of the tragedy at the same site in 2006 when over 56 pilgrims were washed away after water was released in the Sindh River from upstream.
After the 2006 tragedy, the state government had constructed a bridge over the river but mishap took place on it allegedly due to poor mismanagement of the crowd that gathered in lakhs from the nearby districts and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, a blame game has also begun between Congress and the ruling BJP over the tragic incident. After the temple tragedy, the ruling BJP has taken a defensive stand, maintaining that a rumour about the bridge collapsing led to the stampede. State government spokesperson and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra, however, admitted that “mild force” used by the police on pilgrims worsened the situation.
The Opposition Congress, however, squarely blamed the ineptitude of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for the tragedy.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said that despite a stampede near the temple in 2006, the police and the administration were caught napping. “Postings of collectors and SPs in districts are made on the basis of the money they fetch,” he said.
“This is a common practice in the BJP regime and those getting postings in this fashion care two hoots for action in the event of a lapse on their part. I am told that policemen were taking R200 for letting tractor-trolleys pass the bridge, which led to the stampede. I demand a judicial inquiry into this sad incident,” Singh added.
The Chief Minister 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?” Singh had tweeted late last night.
To which 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 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,” Maken said.
Earlier, former home minister and Congress leader Satyadev Katare said there was complete mishandling of the crowd by the police and administration. It’s the only occasion when pilgrims were lathi-charged.
The incident happened when the pilgrims were crossing the Sindh river bridge to attend a religious ritual on the last day of Navratra festival at Ratangarh’s Mandula Devi temple, which is about 60 kms from district headquarters, and around 320 kms away from the state capital.
The stampede was apparently triggered by a rumour that the bridge across Sindh river the devotees were crossing was about to collapse after a tractor hit the fence of the bridge causing panic.
Unconfirmed reports said that the stampede took place as some people were trying to jump the queue and police used batons to control them.
A Sub Divisional Officer was also seriously injured after being hit by the stones. Thousands of people have thronged the temple during the Navaratras this year.
The state government, with the approval of the State Election Commission in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh to the kin of those killed in the stampede.
The government also announced an assistance of Rs 50,000 each to the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 each for those who suffered minor injuries in the mishap.
MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has appealed to the people to remain calm. He has also ordered a judicial probe into the incident. President Pranab Mukherjee, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Dr manmohan Singh have expressed profound grief and shock over the loss of lives in the Ratangarh stampede.
The President called upon the authorities concerned to provide all possible help to the bereaved families and medical assistance to the injured, an official release said.
The President conveyed condolences to the families of the deceased and prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Similar stampede incident had occurred at the same place five years back. Moreover, on October 20, 2012, three women were killed and 35 others were injured in a stampede at the Salkanpur Devi Temple in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh.