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12 die in Vaishno Devi stampede, India mourns

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.

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Jammu: In a new year tragedy, at least 12 people were killed and 15 others injured on Saturday in a stampede when pilgrims were headed before dawn to the revered Mata Vaishno Devi temple at Katra in Jammu and Kashmir, triggering nationwide mourning.

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.

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The tragedy took place around 2:40 am following an alleged argument between two groups of pilgrims that led to a lot of shouting and eventually to pushing and jostling on a pathway packed with men and women eager to visit the shrine to mark the dawn of 2022.

“The yatra continues in a regulated and smooth manner,” the Board later said in a statement. 

It said the bodies of the deceased were shifted to CHC Katra for legal formalities. The injured were provided first aid at the Medical Unit Bhawan and then shifted to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Super Specialty Hospital for specialized treatment. Four pilgrims were discharged.

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 at Mata Vaishno Devi Temple,” 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.

The Board said Rs 10 lakhs was sanctioned to the families of the pilgrims and Rs 2 lakh each to the injured. It pledged to bear all the cost of medical treatment.

Home Minister Shah, who reached Katra, said he was “deeply pained” by the tragic incident. “I express my condolences to the bereaved families.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said: “The tragedy … is heart-wrenching. Anguished by the loss of lives. My condolences to the bereaved families in this sad hour.”

Chief Ministers Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh and Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi too expressed condolences.  

BJP President J P Nadda called the tragedy “heart-wrenching”.

Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi said: “The tragic incident … is deeply saddening. My condolences to the families who lost their loved ones and I wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”

PDP President Mehbooba Mufti also expressed her unhappiness over the deaths and alleged that neither the administration nor the police were “carrying out their duties”. Instead, she alleged that they were “engrossed in threatening people into silence.”

The Vaishno Devi shrine, located on a hill, was discovered some 700 years back and is one of the most visited Hindu temples in the country.

According to the Board, an estimated 17 lakh pilgrims visited the shrine in 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

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