After at least twelve pilgrims died and 15 others got injured during a stampede at the Vaishno Devi shrine on Saturday, survivors have come out and blamed it on ‘mismanagement’.
A pilgrim from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh said, “Nothing but mismanagement was the cause for this tragic accident. They were aware about the possible rush but allowed the people in unhindered.”
The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has, however, denied the claims, clarifying that all the required arrangements had been made to respond to the expected New Year crowding.
Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh blamed a minor altercation for the ‘unfortunate’ incident.
Nearly 50,000 people were present at the time of the incident, even though the shrine complex can only accommodate more than 20,000.
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The pilgrim from Ghaziabad said that the situation could have been avoided with better management.
“A similar situation had happened minutes earlier but luckily none was hurt and the situation was controlled. We were part of a group of 10 devotees – all neighbours. A heavy rush triggered the stampede as people were going in and out, and every one was in a hurry,” he said.
Another man, who lost a friend at the stampede, said, “I had visited the shrine about 10 years ago but was surprised by the heavy rush this time. After the tragedy, we found ourselves helpless and got no help till 6 am.”
Prem Singh, from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, described the rush as a ‘complete mess’ because of the lack of restrictions on the number of pilgrims and the absence of a proper COVID-19 protocol.
“It was a free-for-all-like situation. Many people were without mandatory face masks,” he said.
Despite the incident, the pilgrimage seems to remain untouched as people continue to wait in long queues to visit the shrine and seek blessings.
“We have been waiting for five hours but nothing is moving,” said Navdeep of Karnal in Haryana.
“Police and officials from 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,” the DGP told PTI.