A STAMPEDE ON a bridge outside a Hindu temple killed at least 60 people in India and dozens more may have died after they leapt into the water below.
“Sixty people are confirmed killed and the figure could reach 100,” local Deputy Police Inspector General D.K. Arya told AFP.
“More than 100 others have been injured” in the disaster in the Datia district of central Madhya Pradesh state, he added.
Arya said the stampede at the Ratangarh temple was triggered by rumours the bridge might collapse after being struck by a heavy vehicle around lunchtime.
“There were rumours that the bridge could collapse after the tractor hit it,” he said. “Many people are feared to have fallen into the river and are unaccounted for.”
Other police sources said that some 20,000 people were on the bridge over the River Sindh when the stampede broke out.
Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, according to witnesses, as Hindus celebrate the end of the Navaratri festival.
The festival is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga, which draws millions of worshippers to temples especially in northern and central India.
Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple in Datia district, which is around 350 kilometres north of the state capital Bhopal, when the stamped happened.
Witnesses said the situation was exacerbated by police charging at the crowds with heavy wooden sticks known as lathis.
“Police lathi-charge during the panic run worsened the situation, forcing many to jump off the bridge,” 28-year-old Manoj Sharma, who lives in the nearby village of Bhander, told The Times of India. Arya insisted however that “there was no baton-charge” by the police.
Uma Shakar Gupta, the state’s home minister, said authorities had not yet determined why the stampede had broken out but downplayed suggestions that security to deal with the crowds was inadequate.
“There were safety measures in place, this is an annual event,” he told reporters. “We don’t yet have information on how this happened, as our focus is on the rescue efffort.”
Ashok Argal, a federal lawmaker from the region, placed the blame on crowds trying to rush across the bridge.
“It is wrong to say there were any administrative lapses. The administration had taken steps and made fool-proof arrangements to avoid any untoward incident,” he told AFP.
“Sometimes there is little cooperation from people and people are always in a hurry, because of which this unfortunate incident occurred.”
The Times of India reported that crowds could be seen pelting police with stones as frustration grew over the rescue operation.
Efforts to reach the injured and ferry them to hospital were being hampered by the huge volume of traffic in the area.
A team of around 20 medics had however managed to reach the scene of the tragedy and the casualty wards of nearby hospitals were being emptied to cope with the influx of victims, the newspaper added on its website.
India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at least 36 people trampled to death in February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.
Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.