Naina Devi stampede: tragedy somewhere, mourning elsewhere!

August 4th, 2008 - 3:19 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin
Anandpur Sahib (Punjab), Aug 4 (IANS) The Naina Devi temple tragedy in Himachal Pradesh Sunday that left 145 people dead and nearly 40 injured may have happened in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh but its impact is being felt more in the neighbouring Punjab and Haryana. Majority of those killed in the stampede that followed a rumour about boulders falling from the hill shrine in the “land of gods” are from Punjab and Haryana.

Officials at the civil hospital here said that out of the 145 bodies received nearly 100 people are from Punjab itself. The hospital is 20 km from the stampede site at the shrine.

The Haryana government Monday announced that 32 residents of the state were killed in the stampede in Himachal Pradesh. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda announced a compensation of Rs.100,000 for the next of kin of each of those from Haryana killed in the tragedy.

The Haryana government Monday cancelled the official ‘Teej’ festival celebration at the state’s Raj Bhawan which was to be attended by the state Governor A.R. Kidwai, Hooda and others, in the wake of the shrine tragedy.

The Punjab government had earlier announced a compensation of Rs.100,000 to all victims of the stampede.

The number of victims from Himachal Pradesh, where the tragedy actually took place, is just about 10. The hill state government also announced a compensation of Rs.100,000 to the next of kin of each of those killed.

“The reaction of the Himachal government on the worst-ever tragedy in the hill state has been a measured one because most of those killed are not from the state but from outside. Had it been the other way around, things would have been different and heads would have rolled,” a senior Himachal government functionary told IANS from Shimla.

Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal spent a few minutes at the hospital here Sunday evening before going back. Punjab’s Health Minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla and the district magistrate and police chief R.N. Dhoke of Ropar spent several hours through Sunday evening and night to take control of the situation.

Majority of the devotees to the famous Hindu shrine come from Punjab and Haryana only. On Sunday, the rush was huge as it was the second day of the ’sawan navratras’ (nine holy days of the monsoon season).

“We get most of the devotees from Punjab and Haryana throughout the year,” temple priest Rajesh Kumar said.

Since all the bodies of the victims and the injured were rushed to Anandpur Sahib town in Punjab, the nearest place to the shrine, it was the district administration in Ropar in Punjab that swung into action.

From doctors to volunteers to ice slabs to community kitchen for relatives of the victims and the injured - the government, private and social agencies in Punjab were the first ones to react even as their Himachal counterparts were completely caught off guard by the magnitude of the tragedy.

The closest district headquarter town of Bilaspur near the shrine is a good 70 km away of hill roads, including a narrow 20 km stretch. The facilities there too could not have matched those available in Punjab.

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