Himachal government begins probe into temple stampede

August 5th, 2008 - 7:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Naina Devi (Himachal Pradesh), Aug 5 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh government Tuesday began a probe into the stampede at the hilltop shrine of Naina Devi that killed at least 145 people, a senior official said. Divisional commissioner Ashwani Kapoor, who is conducting the magisterial inquiry, told IANS that he would invite all eyewitnesses to depose before the one-man commission.

Government officials and employees, including police personnel, who were on duty on Sunday when the accident took place, would be grilled.

“The erring employees will not be spared,” he said.

Meanwhile, official sources said that the tragedy could have been averted.

According to the sources, there was complete lack of coordination between the agencies that had been assigned various duties like regulation of traffic on the roads leading to the shrine, managing the crowds at various places along the one-km walking stretch from the main bus stand to the shrine, and provision of emergency facilities.

They said the police had divided the path leading to the shrine into 10 pockets to manage the crowd.

The stampede took place between pockets 4 and 5 where less than 10 security personnel had been deployed although the sanctioned strength was 60 personnel, comprising police and volunteers.

The district administration had decided ahead of the annual Shravan Navratra fair that each pocket should hold at least 200 devotees who would be allowed to move up only after getting clearance from the above pocket.

But at the time of the tragedy, more than 1,500 devotees were standing in pockets 4 and 5.

Moreover, no meeting was held between police officials of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh before the beginning of the fair to manage the traffic on the 30-km stretch from Anandpur Sahib town in Punjab to the shrine.

Most of the devotees visiting the shrine are from Punjab.

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