A sudden rush of devotees at the Vaishno Devi shrine here to mark the beginning of the New Year triggered the stampede that resulted in the death of 12 people, some of the survivors said, blaming “mismanagement” for the tragedy.
The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, however, denied the charge, saying all necessary arrangements were made because of the expected rush, while Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh blamed a minor altercation for the “unfortunate” incident.
“Nothing but mismanagement was the cause for this tragic accident. They were aware of the possible rush but allowed the people in unhindered,” a pilgrim from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh said while waiting outside a mortuary to identify a dead body.
The man, who did not wish to be named, said this situation could have been avoided if the authorities had managed the pilgrimage better.
“A similar situation had happened minutes earlier, but luckily none was hurt, and the situation was controlled. We were part of a group of 10 devotees – all neighbours. A heavy rush triggered the stampede as people were going in and out, and everyone was in a hurry,” he said.
He added that many people were resting on the floor instead of heading back, and it caused more rush at the Bhawan.
Another man, who lost his friend, Arun Pratab Singh (30), said they had come from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. The Bhawan was overcrowded, he added.
“I had visited the shrine about ten years ago but was surprised by the heavy rush this time. After the tragedy, we found ourselves helpless and got no help till 6 am,” he alleged.
Rani Devi of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur said they were fortunate to have escaped death.
“I saw many people die on the floor and was heartbroken,” she said, blaming it on the “uncontrolled rush” of pilgrims at the Bhawan.
Aditya Sharma, another devotee, said some people sleeping on the floor got crushed in the stampede.
Following the incident, many pilgrims left Katra, the base camp for the shrine, without paying obeisance.
“We are from Pathankot. We returned from the Bhawan without ‘darshan’ due to the stampede,” said Rekha, who was accompanied by five other family members, including three children.
From Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, Prem Singh said there was a complete mess as neither was the number of pilgrims restricted nor were COVID-19 guidelines in force.
“It was a free-for-all-like situation. So many people were without mandatory face masks,” he said, claiming that police personnel on duty at the X-ray checking point surrendered to the heavy rush and were warning people about the possibility of such an accident.
However, many people were waiting in long queues to visit the shrine as the pilgrimage continued unaffected.
Chief executive officer of the shrine board Ramesh Kumar, who was among the first to reach the scene to take stock of the situation and visit the injured at the Narayana hospital, could not be contacted for comment.
Another official of the board, who wished not to be named, said adequate arrangements, including security, were in place due to the expected rush of pilgrims.
The DGP said preliminary information from the scene suggests an altercation among some young boys, and within seconds, there was a stampede situation.
“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 said.
Senior BJP leader and former legislator Devender Singh Rana, who interacted with the pilgrims here to take stock of the situation, said the incident was the first of its kind to occur at the shrine.
“It is a tragic incident and a sad moment for all of us. The whole administration is working to ensure the bodies of the deceased are returned to their families and those injured are given adequate treatment,” he said.
Mr Rana said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also taken note of the incident, and the Lieutenant Governor-led administration is doing its best.
“This is no time for allegations or counter-allegations. It is a tragedy that has happened, and nobody should play politics over it,” he added. At least 12 people died, and over a dozen were injured in the stampede around 2.30 am near gate number three outside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine atop the Trikuta hills, about 50 km from the shrine Jammu.
Former Minister, Pahari Tribe ST Forum delegation call on Lt Governor
Several delegations including former Minister; members of Pahari Tribe ST Forum and Youth leader from Bhaderwah today called on Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at Raj Bhawan.
Sh. Abdul Ghani Kohli, former Minister met the Lt Governor and projected various welfare issues of Gujjar and Bakerwal communities pertaining to proper arrangements for Gujjar & Bakwerwal population in view of the winter season; tribal funds; Insurance for sheep; spreading awareness among Gujjar and Bakerwal communities regarding welfare policies & schemes, besides other concerns of the general public.
Meanwhile, a three-member delegation of the Pahari Tribe ST Forum led by Adv. Ahsan Mirza and accompanied by Adv. Gurdev Singh Thakur and Sh. Sajjad Mirza submitted a memorandum of demands to the Lt Governor pertaining to ST status for Pahari people, functioning of Pahari Advisory Board and other concerning issues of Pahari youth.
Later, Advocate Mohammad Majid Malik, a youth leader from Bhaderwah also called on the Lt Governor and apprised him about various issues of Bhaderwah including the declaration of Jammu University campus into a full-fledged University; construction of Chattargalla tunnel; the opening of Bhaderwah-Chamba and Bhaderwah-Bani road; Mini Secretariat and several youth-related issues.
While interacting with the delegations, the Lt Governor observed that J&K Government has adopted citizen-centric policies and is steadfastly working on all fronts for the development and welfare of people belonging to every community.
We are committed to making every section of society an equal stakeholder in the development process of the UT, the Lt Governor said.
The Lt Governor assured the members of the delegations that the genuine issues put forth by them would be given due consideration. He impressed upon them to keep projecting the issues of public welfare and development of the region.
Jammu: Husband arrested for killing wife
A man was arrested for killing his 23-year-old wife and trying to mislead the investigators by projecting the murder as suicide in Ramban district of Jammu and Kashmir, police said on Saturday.
Nishu Devi, a resident of Pasyal Dharalta village of Batote, was found hanging at her house on January 23 and inquest proceedings were initiated to ascertain the actual cause of the death, a police spokesperson said.
He said the postmortem of the deceased was conducted at district hospital Ramban and the body handed over to legal heirs for last rites.
During the course of inquiry, parents of the deceased alleged that their daughter was murdered by her husband and his family as they had been torturing and harassing her, the spokesperson said.
Pawan Kumar, husband of the deceased, was detained and questioned. He confessed to killing his wife by strangulating her and later hung her body to pass it as a case of suicide to mislead the police, he said.
The officials said the accused was arrested and booked for murder besides attempting to bribe a public servant to escape punishment.
47 Police officers promoted
Jammu and Kashmir Police Headquarters issued promotion orders of 47 officers vide different orders of PHQ.
A statement of J&K Police issued here said that as recommended by the Departmental Promotion Committee and after thorough scrutiny of the service records, promotion in respect of 16 SIs of Armed wing and eight ASIs of Executive Police has been ordered.
Besides, 23 officers have been given in-situ promotion. The statement said that the DGP congratulated the promoted officers and their family members and expressed hope that the promotion would serve as an inspiration for the officers to perform their duties with enhanced dedication and zeal.
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