New Delhi: Sixteen devotees on Tuesday died in the holy town of Haridwar in a stampede that took place after a wooden gate at the entry to an Ashram collapsed. As many as 14 women lost their lives in the stampede during a ceremony attended by over five lakh people.
The accident took place when the pilgrims tried to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Shanti Kunj Ashram to take part in a 'yagya'. The centenary celebrations of religious Guru Pandit Sriram Sharma began on Monday and are on till the November 11.
The victims said that the Ashram management showed complete apathy. "They beat us with lathi. No one even came to help us," said a lady.
Eyewitnesses said that the temporary wooden gate collapsed under the pressure of the people. Some died in the stampede, while others were suffocated.
More than 50 lakh people were expected for the celebrations. Spiritual guru Pandit Sriram Sharma, founder of the Gayatri Pariwar, was born in 1911.
Among those set to attend were the chief ministers of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and the Dalai Lama.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister BC Khanduri has ordered an inquiry and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the relatives of the dead.
"We have decided to tone down the foundation day celebration," said Khanduri.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed his grief after hearing about the loss of life due to stampede at Haridwar and announced ex-gratia of Rs 1 lakh each to the next of kin of the persons deceased and Rs 50,000 to those who got seriously injured.
Including Sabarimala and Allahabad stampedes, in just 2010 and 2011 more than 200 people have died at pilgrimage sites. While in each of these cases the administration was quick to announce compensation, the tragedy of the matter is that nobody seems to be learning from such incidences.