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Last updated: September 30, 2008 4:39 pm
More than 140 people died in a stampede at a Hindu temple in the Indian state of Rajasthan on Tuesday as pilgrims gathered to celebrate the beginning of the nine-day Navaratra festival.
The stampede, which is among the worst in India over the past decade, will increase pressure on religious authorities and the police to ensure better organisation of festivals. Crowd control is notoriously weak at events that often attract many thousands of people.
“We have a final figure of 147 people dead and 55 injured,” Rajiv Dasoth, an inspector-general with the Rajasthan police, said. “The situation is under control and all the injured are being taken care of in hospitals.”
The crush took place at the 15th-century Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur at dawn after a wall collapsed and worshippers lost their footing on a hill-top path. Some estimates put the number of injured at 250 people.
S.N. Thanvi, the home secretary of Rajasthan, said: “As some devotees slipped on the slope on the temple path, others started falling on each other, causing the stampede. A majority of those killed died due to suffocation.”
The state government insisted that police were present in sufficient numbers to control the crowds but that they had been unable to prevent the crush of bodies.
Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, expressed “shock and grief” at the news of the rising death toll in Jodhpur.
Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan, ordered an inquiry into the stampede and said the next of kin of those killed would be paid Rs200,000 ($4,350, €3,030, £2,400) and that those injured would receive Rs50,000 in compensation.
In August a stampede outside the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh claimed the lives of 145 pilgrims. Rumours of a landslide triggered panic among worshippers, sending them scurrying down a mountain path blocked by other devotees.
A government report after the disaster recommended that pilgrims be split up into smaller groups.
In one of the worst disasters at a festival in India in recent times, at least 265 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a stampede at a remote temple in India’s Maharashtra state in 2005.
Some of the biggest stampedes have taken place at religious festivals in Saudi Arabia, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people.
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