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Stampede kills 115 faithfuls

The incident took place on the last day of Navratra festival as devotees from Datia and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh thronged the Durga temple to offer prayers at Ratangarh, about 60 kms from district headquarters and around 320 kms away from the state capital Bhopal.

According to eyewitness reports, the disaster took place as a massive stampede followed rumours that a bridge leading to the Durga temple that the devotees were crossing was about to collapse. ‘115 people were killed in the stampede on the bridge over Sindh river leading to the temple at Ratangarh, where lakhs of devotees had congregated, following rumours by some unidentified persons that it was collapsing,’ the deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, Chambal Range, D K Arya told reporters.

However, unconfirmed reports claimed that the stampede took place because some people were trying to jump the queue and police used batons to control the rogue crowd. The state government has since ordered a judicial inquiry into the mishap. Members of assembly from Datia, Narottam Mishra, who is also the state government spokesman, said the stampede did not occur due to alleged police baton charge, but following an unsubstantiated rumour that the bridge leading to the Durga temple was breaking up. He said he was on his way to Ratangarh to oversee the rescue operations.

Most of the deaths took place on the bridge itself. Heartrending scenes were witnessed as anxious relatives searched for their loved ones from the heaps of dead bodies that lay on the bridge. The irate crowd, protesting over the incident, pelted stones and clashed with the cops following which police resorted to lathicharge to disperse them.

Amid the chaos, police and local volunteers had a tough time bringing the situation under control.  A subdivisional police officer suffered serious injuries after being hit by stones, the DIG said, adding that some other policemen were also injured.

 The situation has since been brought under control, Arya said. The state government, with the approval of the state election commission in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh to the kin of those killed in the stampede. The government also announced an assistance of Rs 50,000 each to the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 each for those who suffered minor injuries in the mishap. 
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