Barmer/Jaipur: At least 14 people were killed and about 50 injured after a pandal fell on them due to strong winds and heavy rains during a religious programme in Barmer district of Rajasthan on Sunday, police said.
A 'Ram Katha' was organised at a school ground near Rani Bhatiyani temple in Jasol village of the district. The pandal was uprooted by strong winds, trapping the people sitting under it, police said, adding that hundreds of devotees were attending the programme. "At least 14 persons, including three women, have died in the incident and about 50 are injured. Reasons of the deaths will be clear after postmortem," said Ratan Lal Bhargava, Additional Superintendent of Police of Balotara.
Those injured have been admitted in different government and private hospitals in Barmer and neighbouring Jodhpur district. Another police officer said information about 39 injured persons were available and officials were working to gather details of the rest. Those killed have been identified as Sundar Devi, Nainu Devi, Narangi Devi, Keval Das, Pemaram, Sanwaldas, Ramesh Kumar, Devilal, Jabbar Singh, Champalal, Indra Singh, Jitendra, Avinash and Maal Singh.
Most of those killed were from different villages of the Barmer district, including the Jalsol village, which is about 460 km from state capital Jaipur. The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of those killed and up to Rs 2 lakh for those who were injured. An inquiry has also been ordered, which will be led by Jodhpur Divisional Commissioner B L Kothari. Kothari and Jodhpur Range Inspector General Sachin Mitta has been directed to visit the accident site.
Eyewitnesses claimed that the tent got uprooted due to the winds and hovered for a few seconds in the air before collapsing. Murlidhar Maharaj, who was leading the 'Ram Katha', stopped midway and asked people to leave as the pandal started to collapse. He scurried from the stage within seconds as the structure came down, leading to a stampede-like situation, they said. No immediate information was available about the condition of Maharaj.
A shopkeeper said locals who rushed to rescue the victims felt current in the structure of the pandal. However, they rescued those trapped inside and took them to hospitals in private vehicles and mini-vans. The programme was organised by Rani Bhatiyani Mandir Sansthan. It started on Saturday and was about to continue till June 30. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the incident. "Collapse of a 'Pandaal' in Rajasthan's Barmer is unfortunate. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and I wish the injured a quick recovery," the Prime Minister's Office quoted him as saying in a tweet.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also expressed grief over the incident. He met senior government officials in Jaipur and took stock of the situation. He said rescue operations were being carried out by the district administration. He also directed officials to ensure proper relief works and treatment of those injured. Union Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Chaudhary, who is the local MP, said he was leaving for Barmer from Delhi to meet the families of the victims and the injured.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also condoled the deaths in the incident. Religious programmes to celebrate Lord Ram's life and ideals through stories related to him, known as 'Ram Katha', are common in several parts of the country.