At least 91 devotees, including 42 women and 30 children, were today killed in a stampede on a narrow bridge to the famous Ratangarh Devi temple, 55 km from this district headquarters.
Eyewitnesses alleged that the horrifying incident was caused by a police lathi-charge.
Announcing a judicial inquiry into the stampede, the Madhya Pradesh Government said that directives were issued to the administration to arrange for proper treatment of those hurt.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expressed grief over the festival day tragedy and paid tributes to the deceased. The incident assumed political hues with the principal opposition Congress saying that Mr Chouhan should assume responsibility for it and forthwith tender his resignation.
Chief Secretary Anthony JC de Sa and Director General of Police Nandan Dubey told media here this evening that about half the deceased hailed from Uttar Pradesh.
‘Those injured were hospitalised here, in Gwalior and Sewda. After a tractor rammed a bridge’s railing, a rumour spread that the structure was collapsing and a stampede-like situation was created. Police exercised mild force to control the crowd,’ Mr de Sa said.
The panic occurred after 0900 hrs when hundreds were crossing the bridge over the Sindh River. Some plunged into the water to save their lives.
Eyewitnesses alleged that police lathi-charged to stop the crowd and that resulted in women, children and the aged running helter-skelter.
The eyewitnesses told a UNI stringer who reached the scene
that some women used their saris as ropes and descended into the water. Preliminary reports placed the toll at merely five.
The administration endeavoured to prevent mob fury by not announcing the actual figure. However, a police officer was thrashed and had to be rushed to hospital. The state regime went into a tizzy and the entire administration initiated rescue and relief efforts on war footing.
Traffic jams lasted for hours on the road leading to Ratangarh and police struggled to convey those hurt to hospital.
Divers fished out bodies and those present on the scene assisted officials in placing the corpses at one place. The administration gained control of the situation in Ratangarh by afternoon. Thirteen of the dead were from neighbouring Bhind District.
Ex gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh would be provided to the next of kin of each of those killed, Rs 50,000 each to the severely injured and Rs 25,000 each to the others hurt. As the Model Code of Conduct is in force, the regime obtained permission from the Election Commission of India for distributing the amounts.