| A volunteer carries the body of a child at a hospital on Sunday. (Right) Footwear lies scattered on the way to the temple. (AP)
Ahmedabad, Oct. 14: Eleven people died in a stampede near a Kali temple atop a Gujarat hill today, apparently because the administration underestimated the number of Navratri pilgrims and the Archaeological Survey of India refused permission to widen the way to the shrine.
Thousands had gathered on the narrow stretch between Patia Pul and Tarpur Darwaja on the Pavagadh hill in Panchmahals district, 42km from Godhra, this morning.
The stampede occurred around 9.30am when pilgrims walking up ran into those coming downhill, district collector K. Rathod said.
District police chief Dipankar Trivedi said the dead included four children. A four-member family from Kheda district and a resident of neighbouring Madhya Pradesh were also among those trampled to death.
Over 30 people were injured, three of them critically.
“The flow of devotees this time was unprecedented. We were expecting two lakh pilgrims today but more than five lakh turned up,” Trivedi said.
Local resident Mayur Jani said the authorities usually check that the devotees’ paths do not cross, but this time no such arrangement was made.
“The stampede occurred in a flash when devotees were coming down from the temple in large numbers. The temple route was, however, cleared swiftly,” the police superintendent said.
Chief minister Narendra Modi described the mishap as “unfortunate”.
Modi, who visited the injured at a hospital in nearby Halol, has ordered a magisterial inquiry and announced a relief of Rs 1 lakh to each victim’s family.
Health minister Ashok Bhatt and home minister Amit Shah were the first to reach the hospital and were greeted with shouts of protest. Local Congress workers, led by former Godhra MLA Rajendra Patel, raised slogans against the ministers.
For years, the Mahakali temple — situated at a height of 820 meters and known for its narrow path and steep climb — has been stampede-prone, primarily because the ASI has refused permission to widen the path, sources said.
In January 2003, seven pilgrims had died when the ropeway atop the hill developed a snag.
Pilgrims from across Gujarat and neighbouring states travel the 1km route to the temple by foot during Navratri. Today was an especially busy day for the shrine, Sunday being the day of the goddess.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi conveyed her condolences to the families of the victims and asked state party president Bharat Solanki to visit the spot. She also urged the Centre to assist the state government in dealing with the situation.