NEW DELHI —
In central India, officials have ordered a judicial inquiry into what caused Sunday's stampede that killed at least 110 people during a Hindu religious festival. There are differing accounts of what spurred the incident.
The incident occurred on the last day of the 10-day Navatri festival, when thousands of Hindu devotees packed the bridge leading to a temple in the Datia district of Madhya Pradesh state.
Then - as one woman describes it - panic broke out.
“We were going to the festival and then all of a sudden, someone yelled the ‘bridge is collapsing - run, run, run,’” recalled the woman, who was present.
The resulting stampede killed and injured dozens of people, including several women and children. Many victims jumped off the bridge into the swollen Sindh River below.
A day later, authorities were still trying to make sense of what happened.
Officials say earlier on Sunday a minor collision broke off part of the bridge’s railing, spurring rumors that the bridge would soon collapse. Some eyewitnesses said an attempt by police to control the crowd using batons aggravated the situation.
Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Secretary Anthony J.C. DeSa told reporters that a judicial inquiry has been ordered into what led to the deadly stampede.
“The government will consult with the High Court and whatever the inquiry’s findings are, if someone is guilty - they will be punished,” DeSa said.
Some 500,000 people were reportedly at the temple and at least 20,000 people were said to be crowding the two-lane bridge when Sunday’s stampede took place. Such numbers are not unusual during religious festivals in India, nor are such deadly incidents.
In 2006, at least 50 people were killed in the very same spot during a stampede, prompting the government to construct a 500-meter long concrete bridge to the temple so devotees would not have to cross the Sindh River by boat.
On Monday, politicians started trading blame with Madhya Pradesh Congress Party General Secretary Digvijaya Singh criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for failing to dispatch enough police to secure the crowds.
“This happened under the nose of BJP leaders and they were unable to do anything to prevent it. We should make a blueprint to ensure this kind of tragedy does not happen again,” said Singh.
Madhya Pradesh leaders rejected Singh’s remarks as politicizing the tragedy, with state elections coming up next month.
The Madhya Pradesh government has offered $2,450 to victims’ families.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed “deep sorry and shock” over the loss of lives on the day of festivities.
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