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12 pilgrims killed in Vaishno Devi stampede on New Year’s Day

12 pilgrims killed in Vaishno Devi stampede on New Year’s Day thumbnail

JAMMU: At least 12 pilgrims were crushed to death and 16 injured on New Year’s Day in the biggest tragedy at Mata Vaishno Devi temple as a crowd surge led to a stampede around 2.15am near gate No. 3 outside the sanctum sanctorum of the popular cave shrine in the Trikuta hills of Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district. The tragedy happened “due to a scuffle between two groups of pilgrims”, the shrine’s board said in a statement without giving more details.

Officials said authorities responded quickly, order within the crowd was restored and the pilgrimage resumed after nearly four hours of the early morning tragedy.

Devi

Rescue teams evacuated the injured to various hospitals. Nine of them at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspecialty Hospital, Kakryal, were discharged during the day, while the rest are undergoing treatment and their condition is said to be stable.

Of the 12 dead, the identity of four people were not known till the filing of this report. “The deceased were identified as Dheeraj Kumar, 26, of Nowshera in J&K’s Rajouri; Sheweta Singh, 35, of Ghaziabad, UP; Delhi residents Vinay Kumar and Sonu Pandey, both 24; Mamta, 38, of Jhajjar, Haryana; Dharamvir Singh, 35, of Saharanpur, UP; Vaneet Singh, 38, also of Saharanpur; and Arun Pratap of Gorakhpur, UP,” a spokesperson of shrine’s board said.

Two bodies were sent by air and nine by road to their native places, while one will be airlifted on Sunday morning from Jammu.

The shrine board spokesperson said Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has announced an immediate ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh to families of the dead and Rs 2 lakh to the injured. “The treatment cost will be borne by the board.” The board can be approached at 01991234804 and 01991234053 for assistance.

The Lt Governor, who chairs the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, ordered a high-level inquiry into the stampede that officials said occurred after a rush of devotees entering and exiting the temple converged near the narrow gate, leading to a suffocating crush as people tried to get away from the spot. According to eyewitnesses, several men and women fell and people walked over them to escape the melee.

Most of the pilgrims have walked 12km through a steep, winding mountain trek from the base camp of Katra, a small town 50km from Jammu, early on Saturday to pray at the shrine. Officials said there was a heavy rush since it was New Year’s Day and more so as the train service to Katra resumed lately following its suspension because of the farmers’ protests in Punjab. A shrine board official said 35,000 pilgrims were allowed to proceed for the yatra on December 31 and January 1 as against the National Green Tribunal’s cap of 50,000 a day, keeping in view the pandemic.

Pilgrims are allowed in a file inside the cave and there’s a constant flow to avoid overcrowding. ”But people probably stayed a bit too long at the temple, crowding the space. As more pilgrims entered, the place got congested and there was a rush to get out. That chaos soon turned into tragedy,” an eyewitness said.

President Ram Nath Kovind and PM Narendra Modi led a shocked nation in offering condolences to the families of the dead and wishing a speedy recovery to the injured. “Extremely saddened by the loss of lives…” Modi wrote on Twitter and announced a compensation package. Junior minister in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, dashed to Katra to take stock of the situation. UP CM Yogi Adityanath and his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal also expressed grief over the tragedy.

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