As the death toll in the stampede during Navratri festivities near a temple in Madhya Pradesh's Datia district climbed to 115 today, Congress today targeted Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan demanding his resignation for the "man-made" tragedy.
The stampede, which also left over 100 injured, was triggered by rumours yesterday that a river bridge the devotees were crossing was about to collapse.
"So far, we have received reports of 115 deaths in the stampede," Deputy Inspector General (DIG) D K Arya told PTI from Ratangarh.
The DIG said a number of people, who had carried away the bodies of their near and dear ones, are now turning up for autopsy, which is mandatory for seeking compensation.
An inquiry commission would be set up within the next two days to probe the stampede near the Ratangarh temple, Chouhan said after meeting injured persons at a hospital in Datia.
The state government had ordered a judicial inquiry into the mishap which was a shocking re-run of the tragedy at the same site in 2006 when over 56 pilgrims were washed away after water was released in the Sindh river from upstream.
After the 2006 tragedy, the state government had constructed a bridge over the river but mishap took place on it allegedly due to poor mismanagement of the crowd that gathered in lakhs from the nearby districts and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
Accusing the state government of "misgovernance" for the stampede, opposition Congress demanded that the chief minister step down. In Delhi, party spokesperson Ajay Maken said the tragedy was "man-made" which could have been stopped.
"A stampede had happened over five years ago at a similar place which left many people injured. The MP government learnt no lessons from it. Its misgovernance and rampant corruption lies at the roots of the tragedy. It should take moral responsibility and the CM should resign," Maken said.
Datia district's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) R S Gupta said that autopsies on 111 bodies were conducted till morning. Police had earlier said that 89 people, including 31 women and 17 children, were killed in the mishap. Arya, while noting that the death toll could go up, said that over 100 people were also injured.
The festivities turned into a tragedy as devotees from Datia and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh thronged the Durga temple to offer prayers on the occasion of Navratri at Ratangarh, about 60 km from the district headquarters and around 320 km away from the state capital Bhopal.
Unconfirmed reports said that the stampede took place as some people were trying to jump the queue and police used batons to control them.
The state government, with the approval of the State Election Commission in poll-bound MP, 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.
Chouhan said that the inquiry report would come in about two months and action on it will be taken within 15 days after its submission. He said action would be taken against those who are responsible for the stampede, after taking permission from the Election Commission. The chief minister had to skip a visit to the stampede site as he did not get permission for it from the EC.
The Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in the state on November 25. Earlier, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh had blamed corruption in plum postings in the state for the occurrence of such tragedies.
"Postings of Collectors and Superintendent of Police (SP) in districts have been done on the basis of money they collect. It is a common practice during BJP rule and those getting appointed in such a manner hardly care for an action in the event of a lapse on their part," Singh told reporters at the airport last night en route to New Delhi.
Hitting back at the Congress for attacking him, Chouhan said playing politics on the tragedy was unwanted. "Politics on any tragedy is unwanted. The focus should be on attending to the injured and taking steps to avoid any such incidents in the future," he tweeted.