Jammu: Twelve people lost their lives and over a dozen others were injured in a stampede at the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir in the early hours during a heavy rush of devotees on New Year.
This is the first such tragedy at the shrine, located atop the Trikuta hills – about 50 km from here – that attracts lakhs of people every year.
The incident occurred between 2.30 AM and 2.45 AM on Saturday near a relatively narrow passage at gate number 3 outside the sanctum sanctorum of the hilltop shrine where devotees usually arrive round the clock after trekking from the Katra base camp, a distance of nearly 13 km.
A high-level inquiry was ordered into the stampede by Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha to be headed by Principal Secretary (Home) Shaleen Kabra with Divisional Commissioner Jammu Rajiv Langar and Additional Director General of Police Mukesh Singh as its members.
Condolences poured in from all quarters and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Sinha and Union minister Jitendra Singh to take stock of the situation.
According to eyewitness accounts, the number of devotees was allegedly beyond the permitted level with flagrant violation of COVID-19 norms, and some of the survivors accused the Jammu and Kashmir administration of “mismanagement”.
PM, Prez led condolence
Expressing deep grief over the loss of lives in a stampede at Vaishno Devi Bhawan in Katra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said all efforts are being made to provide relief to those injured in the unfortunate incident.
Speaking at an event for release of funds to farmers under PM-KISAN scheme, Modi said he spoke to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Lt Governor Manoj Sinha in this regard.
“I express my deep condolences to the bereaved families who have lost their loved ones in the stampede at Vaishno Devi Bhawan complex,” he said.
Modi further said the central government is in constant touch with the J&K administration and full care is being taken for relief work.
President Ram Nath Kovind on Saturday said he was very distressed to know that an unfortunate stampede claimed lives of devotees at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhavan in Jammu and Kashmir and offered heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
“I wish speedy recovery to those injured,” he said.
“Very distressed to know that an unfortunate stampede claimed lives of devotees at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhavan. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families. I wish speedy recovery to those injured,” Kovind tweeted.
Meanwhile, Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir expressed grief over the loss of lives in the stampede at the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi in Jammu on Saturday and urged the administration to take adequate steps to ensure such an incident does not recur
Reasons for stampede
A sudden rush of devotees at the Vaishno Devi shrine here to mark the beginning of the New Year triggered the stampede that resulted in the death of 12 people, some of the survivors said, blaming “mismanagement” for the tragedy.The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, however, denied the charge, saying all necessary arrangements were made in view of the expected rush, while Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh blamed a minor altercation for the unfortunate incident.
“Nothing but mismanagement was the cause for this tragic accident. They were aware about the possible rush but allowed the people in unhindered,” a pilgrim from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh said while waiting outside a mortuary to identify a dead body.
The man, who did not wish to be named, said this situation could have been avoided if the authorities concerned had managed the pilgrimage better.
“A similar situation had happened minutes earlier but luckily none was hurt and the situation was controlled. We were part of a group of 10 devotees all neighbours. A heavy rush triggered the stampede as people were going in and out, and every one was in a hurry,” he said.
Many people were resting on the floor, instead of heading back, and it caused more rush at the bhawan, he added.
Chief executive officer of the shrine board Ramesh Kumar, who was among the first to reach the scene to take stock of the situation and visit the injured at the Narayana hospital, could not be contacted for comment.
Another official of the board, who wished not to be named, said adequate arrangements, including security, were in place due to the expected rush of pilgrims.
The DGP said preliminary information from the scene suggests there was an altercation among some young boys, and within seconds, there was a stampede situation.
“Police and officials from the civil administration were quick to respond, and the order within the crowd was immediately restored, but by that time, the damage had been done,” he told PTI.
Senior BJP leader and former legislator Devender Singh Rana, who interacted with the pilgrims here to take stock of the situation, said the incident was the first of its kind to take place at the shrine.
“It is a tragic incident and a sad moment for all of us. The whole administration is working to ensure the bodies of the deceased are returned to their families and those injured are given adequate treatment,” he said.
Rana said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also taken note of the incident and the Lieutenant Governor-led administration is doing its best.
“This is no time for allegations or counter-allegations. It is a tragedy that has happened and nobody should play politics over it,” he added.
The three-member panel set up to probe the stampede at the famous Vaishno Devi shrine has been asked to submit its report to the Jammu and Kashmir government within a week, according to an official order issued on Saturday.
The committee headed by the principal secretary (home) was constituted by the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha following the stampede at the shrine atop the Trikuta hills in Reasi district in the early hours of Saturday that left 12 pilgrims dead and over a dozen others injured.
In an order issued this evening on behalf of the J&K government, General Administration Department Principal Secretary Manoj Kumar Dwivedi said the high-level panel has been constituted to ascertain the reasons behind the tragic incident.
The other two members of the committee are Jammu Divisional Commissioner Raghav Langer and Additional Director General of Police, Jammu, Mukesh Singh.
“The Committee shall examine in detail the causes/reasons behind the incident (stampede) and point out the lapses and fix the responsibility thereof,” the order said.
It said the committee would submit its report within a week’s time to the government and also suggest appropriate standard operating procedures and measures for preventing the recurrence of such incidents in future.
Future measures to
thwart such incident
Innovative measures are required to deal with the trend of youngsters visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine on New Year, Union minister Jitendra Singh said on Saturday, as he arrived here to take stock of the situation following a stampede that left 12 devotees dead.
The minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office visited the cave shrine atop the Trikuta hills in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir and also met injured devotees undergoing treatment at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspeciality Hospital at Kakriyal.
Jitendra Singh, who was accompanied by Jammu & Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbag Singh, said in the past few years, a trend has started with a large number of young people preferring to come for the Yatra on the first day of the year.
“Traditionally, devotees used to come on festival days like Navratras, Dussehra and Deepavali. But this is a new trend, and we have to take measures accordingly,” he said, adding, “We will talk about innovation and technology to find some solution to this.”
The minister said online ‘darshan’, LED screens for ‘Aarti’ (prayers) and other similar measures already in practice at the Tirupati Balaji temple could be replicated here for better management.
“When there is heavy rush and people are eager to visit and take part in the prayers on the same day of the New Year, such measures could be very useful,” he said, and suggested a sustained campaign and counselling for pilgrims.
Singh said sometimes, the administration faces problems when there is much enthusiasm among devotees, and there is also a border line for the restrictions.
Expressing happiness that the injured pilgrims are now stable, the minister said six people are admitted in the intensive care unit and four in general ward.
“Six of them are ready to get discharged, and the condition of the remaining injured is also stable. This is the happy part of this tragic incident, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is monitoring the situation and is in regular touch with officers concerned,” Singh said.
Earlier, the minister interacted with the injured pilgrims and was also briefed by doctors, officials said.
Pilgrimage going on smoothly
The Vaishno Devi pilgrimage is going on smoothly with strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs), including COVID-19 guidelines, despite a stampede that claimed 12 lives and left over a dozen injured, a senior government official said on Saturday.
Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Raghav Langer said bodies of four victims of the stampede were dispatched to their native places, while the process to send the rest of the bodies was in progress.
Langer, along with Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Mukesh Singh, visited Katra the base camp for pilgrims visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine to take stock of the situation.
Langer and Singh are part of a high-level committee formed under instructions of Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha and headed by the principal secretary (home) to inquire into the stampede at the shrine.
“The (Vaishno Devi) Yatra has resumed (after the stampede) and is going on smoothly,” the divisional commissioner told reporters at Katra as the committee visited the town to begin its probe.
On complaints of mismanagement and violation of COVID-19 guidelines, the officer said the Yatra is in progress with strict adherence to the SOPs.
On the reasons that led to the stampede, Langer said the L-G has ordered a high-level probe.
“The committee has started its work and will share the details as the probe progresses,” he said.
Langer said the administration and the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board have released helpline numbers to facilitate family members of visiting pilgrims who wanted to get in touch with their dear ones.
The divisional commissioner said bodies of all deceased persons have been identified, and relatives of 10 have already been contacted so that the bodies can be dispatched to their home towns.
“We are dispatching the bodies of the deceased to their home town with full respect. Two bodies have already been dispatched to Haryana and Nowshera in Rajouri district (J&K). Two more bodies were also sent off to Delhi,” he said.
The divisional commissioner said the condition of all the injured persons is “stable”.
“Out of 15 injured admitted to the Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspeciality Hospital at Kakriyal, four were discharged and the rest are stable,” Langer, who along with other members of the committee visited the hospital to enquire about the condition of the pilgrims, said.
He said the priority of the administration is to provide the best possible treatment to the injured. “The condition of all the injured is stable and a team of doctors are monitoring them,” he added.
List of major stampedes at temples,
other religious gatherings in India
Hundreds of people have died in stampedes at temples and other Hindu religious gatherings over the years in India. Here is a list of some of such major tragedies that have taken place in the country after 2000:
* August 27, 2003: 39 people were killed and around 140 injured in a stampede during the holy bath at the Kumbh Mela in Maharashtra’s Nashik district
* January 25, 2005: More than 340 devotees were trampled to death and hundreds injured during an annual pilgrimage at Mandhardevi temple in Maharashtra’s Satara district. The accident occurred when some people fell down on the steps made slippery by devotees breaking coconuts.
* August 3, 2008: 162 dead, 47 injured in stampede triggered by rumours of rockslides at Naina Devi temple in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh
* September 30, 2008: Nearly 250 devotees killed and over 60 injured in stampede triggered by rumours of bomb going off at Chamunda Devi temple in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur city
* March 4, 2010: About 63 people were killed in a stampede at Ram Janki Temple of Kripalu Maharaj in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh district as people gathered to collect free clothes and food from the self-styled godman.
* November 8, 2011: At least 20 people were killed in stampede in Haridwar at Har-ki-Pauri ghat on banks of the Ganga river
* November 19, 2012: Around 20 people were killed and many others injured as a makeshift bridge caved in, triggering a stampede during Chhath Puja at Adalat Ghat on the bank of river Ganga in Patna
* October 13, 2013: 115 people were killed and over 100 injured in a stampede during Navratri festivities near Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district. The stampede was triggered by rumours that a river bridge the devotees were crossing was about to collapse.
* October 3, 2014: Thirty-two people were killed and 26 others injured in a stampede at Gandhi Maidan in Patna, shortly after the Dussehra celebrations ended.
* July 14, 2015: Twenty-seven pilgrims died and 20 others were injured in a stampede at a major bathing spot on the banks of the Godavari river where a huge crowd of devotees had gathered on the opening day of ‘Pushkaram’ festival in Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh.
* January 1, 2022: At least 12 people died and over a dozen were injured in a stampede at the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir triggered by a heavy rush of devotees.