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Rediff.com  » News » Junagadh stampede toll reaches 7; probe ordered

Junagadh stampede toll reaches 7; probe ordered

Last updated on: February 20, 2012 17:06 IST

Six pilgrims, including three women and a toddler, were killed on the spot and at least 100 were injured in a stampede in the sacred Maha Shivaratri Mela in Junagadh on Sunday night.

The toll mounted to seven on Monday morning when one of those injured died in the government hospital of the historic town.

Touched by the tragedy and as a mark of respect to the victims, the monks at the forefront of the traditional fair cancelled -- an unprecedented decision -- the customary "shahi" procession of the naked sadhus called ravadi that was to take place on Monday. Instead, only a "symbolic" ravadi was carried out.

It being Sunday, thousands of devotees were heading towards Bhavnath, the foothill of the hallowed Mount Girnar, where the religious fair takes place each year.

According to the police, the cause of the stampede was a three-hour traffic jam as a result of a collision between two state transport buses on the bridge leading to Bhavnath. As there was no way to proceed further, many devotees began going towards Bhavnath from the nearby old Panja Bridge.

In the melee, one person walking on the parapet of the bridge slipped and fell down, triggering off the stampede as many others walking behind him and holding one another also lost their balance and began to be trampled underfoot in the rush.

The eyewitnesses said there was chaos everywhere as people were running for their lives with children and women crying their hearts out. About 80 persons fell from the bridge and three women, two men and a kid lost their lives in the hustle and bustle that followed.

As the news of the tragedy spread like wildfire, the police stopped the people and vehicles at Girnar Gate itself and did not allow them to go towards Bhavnath. But there were already so many people and vehicles on the road leading to Bhavnath that it was one hell of a task for the authorities to clear the traffic jam.

So much so that even ambulance personnel had a hard time taking the injured to the hospital. Many of the injured were carried to the hospital on the bonnets and roofs of private vehicles.

It is learnt that the police had to take recourse to a mild lathicharge to control the continual flow of the pilgrims. With the mobile network being jammed for 150 minutes in the wake of the tragedy, no communication was possible between the devotees and their relatives, adding more to the woes of the unfortunate devotees.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was constantly monitoring the situation. Agriculture and co-operation and law minister Dilip Sanghani was rushed to Junagadh.

Sanghani reached the civil hospital at 2 am on Monday and met the injured. While the state government has announced an aid of Rs. 1,00,000 each for the dead, the Congress has demanded a compensation of Rs 5,00,000 for the victims.

Meanwhile, the government has set up a high-level inquiry committee to look into the whole incident.

Haresh Pandya in Rajkot