September 30, 2008 5:03:36 pm
Nearly 150 people were crushed to death and 55 others injured in a stampede early this morning caused by a rush of devotees in the Chamunda Devi temple in the 15th century Mehrangarh Fort on a hillock here on the first day of Navaratri festival.
In a virtual repeat of the Naina Devi temple stampede in Himachal Pradesh on August 3, in which 162 people were killed, 147 devotees, mostly men, died when they were trampled upon by other pilgrims as doors of the temple opened for worship at dawn, according to Divisional Commissioner, Jodhpur, Kiran Soni Gupta.
She said four of the injured were in a critical condition. Over 1,000 people, mostly locals, had gathered from shortly after midnight for a glimpse of the Deity at the start of the Navaratri festival.
Different versions have cropped up over the reason for the stampede with one saying that there was a scramble on the narrow 2-km path for gaining entry to the hillock shrine in the Fort run by the family of erstwhile ruler Gaj Singh.
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The casualties occurred in the queue meant for men while that for the women and children was unaffected, officials said.
In a similar tragedy three years ago, 340 devotees were trampled to death during an annual pilgrimage at the Mandradevi temple in Maharashtra.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said there was a huge rush in the queue for men and some people slipped causing panic and stampede.
Director General of Police K S Bains said there was a power failure and some people slipped on the ramp leading to the shrine which caused the trampling. However, he denied as incorrect that there were rumours of a bomb blast.
Eyewitnesses said as some devotees slipped on the 75-metre slope, others fell on each other causing the stampede.
“Many of those killed died due to suffocation as a result of the stampede,” Principal Secretary (Home) S N Thanvi said in Jaipur.
15 to 20 people were killed on the spot and the others succumbed to their injuries in various hospitals including Mahatma Gandhi, Mathuradas Mathur and Sun City Hospitals here, officials said.
Chief Minister Vasudhara Raje, who visited the tragedy site, ordered an inquiry into the incident and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured.
Officials said the situation went out of control as devotees, carrying offerings, jostled with each other and tried to rush towards the temple doors breaking the barricades.
Inspector General of Police, Jodhpur, Rajiv Dasod said some of the devotees slipped on a 75-metre-long slope on the temple path causing the stampede in the 100-metre zone around it.
“There has been no casualty in the queue for women in which a large number of children were also present,” he said.
The injured were rushed to hospitals in police vehicles and ambulances, Dasod said, adding that the whole areas was evacuated within an hour.
Some eyewitness told police that a side wall of the temple had also collapsed due to pressure from the large number of devotees.
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