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115 killed in Madhya Pradesh temple stampede, Cong demands CM's head

Last updated on: October 14, 2013 18:55 IST

115 killed in Madhya Pradesh temple stampede, Cong demands CM's head

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Under attack, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday announced a judicial probe into the stampede at a temple in Madhya Pradesh's Datia district as the death toll in the tragedy during Navaratri festivities mounted to 115, prompting demands for his resignation.

The state government also recommended suspension of the Datia collector, superintendent of police, sub-divisional magistrate and sub-divisional officer, police to the Election Commission over the  Ratangarh stampede incident.

"So far, we have received reports of 115 deaths in the stampede," Deputy Inspector General D K Arya told PTI from Ratangarh, the scene of Sunday’s tragedy.

The stampede, which also left over 100 injured, was said to have been triggered by rumours that the bridge over river Sindh, which the devotees were crossing was about to collapse.

Unconfirmed reports said that the stampede took place as some people were trying to jump the queue and police used batons to control them.

Lakhs of devotees had converged at Ratangarh, 60 km from the district headquarters and around 320 km from state capital Bhopal, to offer prayers at a Durga temple on the occasion of Navratri when disaster struck.

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Image: People cry next to bodies of victims killed in a stampede near Ratangarh temple
Photographs: Reuters

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115 killed in Madhya Pradesh temple stampede, Cong demands CM's head

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Facing criticism by the Congress, Chouhan announced a judicial probe into the incident, describing it as "shocking and most unfortunate". He said an inquiry commission would be set up in a couple of days and would be asked to submit its report within two months. The recommendations of the panel would be implemented within 15 days of submission of the report and action will be taken against those found responsible for the tragedy, Chouhan said.

The CM was earlier denied permission to visit the scene of the stampede by the Election Commission.

As the death toll climbed to 115, the Congress party mounted an offensive against Chouhan, blaming corruption under him for the tragedy. "The police was charging Rs 200 from every tractor to allow them entry into the no-traffic zone. Is this what they call good governance in Madhya Pradesh?" Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh said. He blamed corruption in plum postings in the state for the occurrence of such tragedies.

"Postings of collectors and superintendent of police in districts have been done on the basis of money they collect. It is a common practice during the BJP rule and those getting appointed in such a manner hardly care for an action in the event of a lapse on their part," Singh told reporters.

Madhya Pradesh Health Minister and BJP MLA from Datia Narottam Mishra deprecated attempts to politicise the tragedy, but conceded there were "some lapses" that had led to it.

"Yes, there were definitely some lapses, some shortcomings that led to this heart-rending incident. I have requested the chief minister to pay attention to those," he said.

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Image: A woman cries next to the body of a victim
Photographs: Reuters

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115 killed in Madhya Pradesh temple stampede, Cong demands CM's head

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In Delhi, party spokesperson Ajay Maken demanded that Chouhan step down owning moral responsibility for the "man-made" tragedy which could have been prevented.

"A stampede had happened over five years ago at a similar place which left many people injured. The MP government learnt no lessons from it. Its misgovernance and rampant corruption lies at the root of the tragedy. It should take moral responsibility and the CM should resign," he said.

The mishap 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 into the Sindh river from upstream. After the 2006 tragedy, the state government had constructed a bridge over the river but another tragedy occurred allegedly due to poor crowd management by the local administration and the police. Eyewitnesses said only a handful of policemen were present to manage over five lakh pilgrims from nearby districts and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Chouhan hit back at the Congress for attacking him, saying playing politics over the tragedy was unwanted. "Politics on any tragedy is unwanted. The focus should be on attending to the injured and taking steps to avoid any such incidents in the future," he tweeted.

Later, talking to reporters at a Datia hospital where he was heckled by a large crowd, Chouhan said, "In times like this, doing politics is irresponsible."

It has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh to the kin of those killed in the stampede, besides an assistance of Rs 50,000 to each of the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who suffered minor injuries after obtaining permission of the Election Commission. The assembly elections are scheduled to be held in the state on November 25.


Image: The bridge on which the stampede took place
Photographs: Reuters

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