12 die in stampede after argument leads to chaos

Jammu, Jan 1 (UNI): Twelve people were killed and 15 injured before dawn on Saturday in a mad stampede when thousands of men and women thronged the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine at Katra in Jammu and Kashmir to offer New Year prayers, triggering nationwide mourning.

The tragedy occurred around 2.15 am reportedly after an argument between two groups just outside Gate no 3 of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Bhavan sparked pushing and jostling, with the authorities unable to enforce order.

Police said the stampede happened because of heavy rush of devotees. Apparently, after a low footfall both due to Covid-19 and the farmers’ agitation, there was an unusually heavy crowd on Saturday.

The pilgrimage was suspended for rescue operations and resumed in an orderly manner after almost four hours.

Meanwhile, the bodies of those who died, including one each from Haryana and Rajouri (Jammu and Kashmir) and two from Delhi, were sent to their places, authorities said.

The injured were being treated at Narayana Hospital. “All are stable,” Dr Raghav Langer, Divisional Commissioner of Jammu, told reporters.

President Ramnath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences while Home Minister Amit Shah rushed to the site as the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board resumed the pilgrimage after a hurriedly ordered rescue operation ended.

It said rescue and evacuation efforts were immediately launched by the Board, the district administration, police and security forces. The Board released names of the deceased and injured pilgrims.

The Jammu and Kashmir government ordered a probe into the “unfortunate incident”. The three-member panel will include the Principal Secretary (Home), Lt Governor Manoj Sinha said.

Sinha, who is also Chairman of the Board, said, “Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede … My condolences to the families of the deceased and prayers with the injured.”

President Kovind said: “Very distressed to know that an unfortunate stampede claimed lives of devotees at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhavan. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families. I wish speedy recovery to those injured.”

“Saddened by the tragic incident,” Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu tweeted.

Expressing grief over the loss of lives, Modi announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin who died and Rs 50,000 for the injured.

“Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede… Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” Modi said in a tweet.

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