Haridwar (Uttarakhand): At least 16 people were killed in a horrific stampede at a religious event here on Tuesday when tens of thousands had packed the banks of the Ganges, organisers said. Expressing grief over the loss of lives, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sanctioned Rs one lakh for the kin of those killed..

Witnesses said the tragedy occurred when an elderly woman slipped while walking through a barricaded route close to where 1,551 'yagyas' - or fire rituals - were on.

“Once the woman fell, there was commotion. The crowds, however, kept pushing ahead. In no time, people began to fall over one another, crushing many,” an activist for Gayatri Parivar, said one of the organizers.  The activist as well as local officials said the dead included 14 women and two men. Most were aged and were suffocated to death. Around 40 others were injured in varying degrees.  

Ambulances rushed the injured to the hospital that the organisers had set up to deal with emergency situations. 

Some were taken to other hospitals in the Hindu holy town.  Tuesday was the third day of a five-day event that began on Sunday. 

Local officials claimed that the organisers had not told them that lakhs would throng Haridwar during the event but the Gayatri Parvar denied this.

“This is not at all true. A senior minister of Uttarakhand was at our inaugural function, so was a former Chief Minister and a Central Minister. And they all knew what a mammoth function we were organising,' the activist said. 

Gayatri Parivar spokespersons had said last week that they expected some 50 lakh people to attend the event over five days. 

On Tuesday itself, an estimated four to five lakh people had thronged Haridwar. 'We knew about the crowds and we had told everyone including the media,' the spokesperson said. 

He added that Gayatri Parivar, which commands millions of members mostly in northern and western India, had urged the elderly not to visit Haridwar but many chose to do so. 

He also said that despite the tragedy, the organisers continued with their rituals because cancelling the event would have led to more panic.  Gayatri Parivar organised the event aimed at propagating Gayatri Mantra -- one of the foremost chants in Hinduism. 

It also marked the centenary celebrations of the group's founder, Pandit Sitaram Sharma.  

Among those expected to attend the event are the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

PM sanctions Rs 1L for kin of dead

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday expressed grief over the loss of lives in a stampede in Haridwar in Uttarakhand and sanctioned Rs one lakh for the kin of those killed.

He also sanctioned Rs 50,000 for those seriously injured, a PMO spokesman said, adding "The Prime Minister is grieved to learn about the loss of lives in the Haridwar stampede."
 
The stampede occurred this morning during a religious ceremony when thousands of devotees tried to enter a temple at Chandidweep Ghat near Har Ki Pauri.

Sonia condoles deaths

Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed her deep shock and sorrow over the tragic stampede deaths in Haridwar and urged authorities to act immediately to provide relief to the injured.

“Sonia Gandhi expressed her deep shock and sorrow on the tragic deaths caused by the stampede in Haridwar. She also conveyed her condolences to the bereaved families and urged the authorities to act immediately in providing relief to the injured," an AICC release said.

(JPN/Agencies)