Jammu- At least 12 people died and over a dozen were injured in a stampede at the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu triggered by a heavy rush of devotees in the early hours of Saturday, officials said.
Director General of Police Dilbag Singh told PTI that preliminary information from the scene suggests there was a minor altercation among some young boys, and within seconds, there was a stampede situation.
"Police and officials of 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.
The stampede occurred around 2.30 am near gate number three outside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine located atop the Trikuta hills, about 50 km from Jammu.
Condolences poured in from all quarters, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha and Union ministers Jitendra Singh and Nityanand Rai to take stock of the situation. Sinha has ordered a high-level inquiry.
"Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon," Modi tweeted.
Senior officials present at the scene said 12 people died in the stampede and their bodies have been taken to a hospital in the Katra base camp for identification.
Fifteen injured were undergoing treatment at the Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, and the condition of two of them was stated to be critical. Some were discharged after first-aid, they added.
Aditya Sharma, a pilgrim, said there was a heavy rush of devotees and some people who were sleeping on the floor got crushed.
Eight of the deceased were identified as Arun Pratab Singh (30), Dharam Veer Singh (35), Vineet Kumar (38) and Shamta Singh (35) of Uttar Pradesh, Vinay Kumar (24) and Sonu Panday (24) of Delhi, Mamta (38) of Haryana and Desraj Kumar (26) of Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir, the officials said, adding the identities of the rest are yet to be ascertained.
They said the shrine was open, and as per last reports, devotees were paying obeisance.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) announced an ex gratia grant for the victims.
"An ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of those who lost their lives due to the stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan. The injured would be given Rs 50,000: PM @narendramodi," the PMO tweeted.
In a series of tweets, the office of the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor said, "Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. My condolences to the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured."
"Spoke to Hon'ble Home Minister Shri Amit Shah Ji. Briefed him about the incident. A high level inquiry has been ordered into today's stampede. The Inquiry Committee will be headed by Principal Secretary (Home) with ADGP, Jammu and Divisional Commissioner, Jammu as members," Sinha said.
"Spoke to Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji. Briefed him about the incident. Hon'ble Prime Minister has assured all the help. Ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each would be given to the next of kin of those who lost their lives due to stampede and Rs 2 lakh to injured. Shrine board to bear the cost of treatment of injured," he added.
President Ram Nath Kovind said he was very distressed to know about the stampede and offered condolences to the bereaved families. "I wish speedy recovery to those injured," he said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said he was deeply pained by the tragic accident.
"Deeply pained by the tragic accident at Mata Vaishno Devi temple. In this regard, I have spoken to Lieutenant Governor of J&K Shri Manoj Sinha. The administration is working continuously to provide treatment to the injured. I express my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this accident," Shah tweeted in Hindi.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, "The stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi temple is tragic. I extend my condolences to the families of the deceased."
Union Minister Jitendra Singh said he was headed to Katra to take stock of the situation.
Political parties in Kashmir, including the National Conference and the People's Conference, expressed grief over the incident.
The PDP said such mismanagement has been unheard of in recent times. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families who lost their loved ones & pray for speedy recovery of the injured, it said in a tweet.
Officials at the spot said the incident was triggered by a heavy rush of devotees who came to pay their obeisance to mark the beginning of the New Year.
Devotees usually trek to the hilltop shrine from the Katra base camp, a distance of nearly 13 km, while some reach there by helicopters.
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