Bhopal, Oct 13 (IANS) At least 85 people were killed Sunday in a horrific stampede at a Durga temple in a forested part of Madhya Pradesh, with many devotees falling into a fast flowing river, officials said.
More than 100 others were injured in the tragedy at the Ratangarh temple in Datia district, 390 km north of this state capital and 55 km from Datia town.
An estimated 2.5 lakh people had gathered all around the Maa Ratangarh Wali temple on the final day of Navratri festival, a police officer said. Some 35,000 people were at the site of the tragedy.
The temple is located in a dense forest on the banks of Sindh river. It draws thousands during Navratri, the bulk making it on the last day of the nine-day festival.
Just how the stampede happened was not clear.
One version -- denied by the authorities -- said a police baton attack over a narrow bridge on a river caused the tragedy.
Another version said a rumour that the bridge was collapsing triggered a mad rush, resulting in the stampede.
As men, women and children fell and got crushed, some of the devotees jumped from the bridge into the river.
Deputy Inspector General of Police D.K. Arya told IANS that the death toll was likely to rise as many pilgrims were critically injured.
He added that some were missing after falling off the bridge.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Antony Disa put the death toll in the evening at 85 and pledged to take action against those responsible for the stampede.
He said more than 20 bodies had been flushed out of the river.
Some devotees complained that the number of policemen deployed to control the crowds was grossly inadequate. One account put the number of policemen at less than 10.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a compensation of Rs.1.5 lakh to the kin of each of those killed. An investigation has been ordered into the deaths.
Datia legislator Narottam Mishra, who is also the state government spokesman, blamed the stampede on a rumour that the bridge on the river near the temple was collapsing.
An angry crowd later stoned police personnel, injuring 12 men, including two officers.
Congress leader Ajay Singh alleged that many of the victims died because they remained without medical help for a long time.
A near similar tragedy in 2006 left 49 people dead in the temple area. It was then that authorities built a bridge over the Sindh river. Ironically, that bridge was involved in Sunday's stampede.