Twelve pilgrims were killed and fourteen injured during the wee hours on Saturday in a stampede at the Vaishnodevi shrine where thousands of people from across the country had converged to seek blessings of the goddess on the New Year.
The stampede occurred at about 2.30am outside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine at the top of the Trikuta Hills.
Although the police and officials of the Shrine Board said that the stampede was triggered by a “minor altercation among some young boys” amid a massive rush of devotees, but the incident has raised questions on the officials compromising with the security guidelines and letting thousands of pilgrims reach the Bhavan area. Moreover, the Covid-19 prevention guidelines were also not observed as there was no social distancing among the huge rush of devotees. Among the killed were two women and most victims belonged to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi.
Eyewitnesses alleged that the security arrangements in the area were not proper and only a couple of cops were present there to control the rush. The chaos led to stampede during which confusion prevailed as groups of pilgrims got separated. Some pilgrims claimed that the stampede occurred after the policemen canecharged at the pilgrims to restore order.
Union Minister in the PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh flew to Katra and went to the hospital where the injured were being treated. Later, accompanied by the J&K DGP Dilbag Singh he visited the incident spot around the Gate Number 3 at the Bhavan. “Have noted down some do-able correctable measures. Shall share the same at meeting with Shrine Trust management. Also some innovative steps could be introduced”, Dr. Jitendra Singh tweeted after visiting the spot at the shrine.
Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha, who is also chairman of the shrine board, briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah about the incident. He ordered a high level probe by a 3-member committee headed by principal secretary (Home). ADGP Jammu and divisional
commissioner, Jammu, are members of the probe committee.
Ex-gratia of Rs.10 lakh each would be given to next of kin of those who lost their lives and Rs.2 lakh to injured. The shrine board will bear the cost of treatment to the injured, Sinha announced. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “personally monitoring and keeping track of the tragic
situation,” Jitendra Singh said.
Preliminary information from the scene suggests that a minor altercation among some young boys led to the stampede at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in which 12 people unfortunately died, DGP Dilbag Singh said.
Police and officials from the civil administration were quick to respond, and the order within the crowd was immediately restored, but by that time, the damage had been done. He further said that all those injured have been taken to hospitals, where the condition of some is stated to be serious
Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sending his condolences to the bereaved families.
The Prime Minister's Office also announced an amount of Rs. 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. The PMO said that the amount would be given to the families of those who lost their lives due to the stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan. The injured would be given ₹ 50,000, the PM Office added.
National Conference leaders, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Conference chief Sajad Lone, Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari and former minister Naeem Akhtar have expressed shock over the incident and have expressed sympathy with kin of those killed.