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As many as 111 devotees were killed and over 100 injured in a stampede near the Ratangarh Mata temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district on Sunday morning following rumours that a bridge on the Sindh river that they were crossing was about to collapse.
Tens of thousands of devotees were on the bridge at the time when the rumours spread. There were more people on either side. As panicky devotees scrambled to clear the bridge, many fell down and were crushed. Many of the dead were women, children and the aged.
The temple located about 2 km from the bridge, itself saw no chaos because some arrangements were in place. However, on either side of the bridge, as per eyewitnesses, less than a dozen police personnel were on duty. Many of them accused police of resorting to lathicharge to regulate the traffic as also for spreading the rumour about the imminent bridge collapse.
Survivors also claimed that policemen let vehicles onto the bridge, though these were supposed to halt at barricades, after taking money. Later, AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh alleged police had charged Rs 200 per vehicle.
Relief work began only after three hours as the administration took some time realising the scale of the tragedy. The temple is located about 70 km from Datia, the district headquarters.
SDM Mahip Tejaswi said about three to four lakh devotees had gathered on Sunday, much more than the anticipated turnout. He said the biggest annual mela at the temple occurs after Diwali, and not during Navratras.
DIG D K Arya claimed that a group of 25-30 youths from Jalaun in Uttar Pradesh had deliberately spread the rumour about the bridge collapsing because they wanted to reach the temple early. However, he admitted they hadn’t identified any of the youth.
Arya said the dead included 17 children, 31 women and 41 men. Ten of the injured are critical. He denied reports that some devotees had jumped into the river to escape the stampede.
The 400 m-plus bridge was built three years ago, after more than 50 devotees were