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14 women among victims
16 killed, 32 injured in Haridwar stampede

HARIDWAR, Nov 8: Sixteen people--14 women and two men—were killed in a stampede today during a religious ceremony attended by tens of thousands of devotees near the famous ‘Har Ki Pauri’ ghat on the banks of the Ganges river.

At least 32 people were also injured in the stampede that broke out when people tried to enter the ‘yajnashala’(place of sacred fire ceremony) at Chandidweep Ghat for the birth centenary celebrations of Acharya Pandit Shriram Sharma.

The Acharya, a Saint-Scholar-Philosopher, was the founder of Shantikunj Ashram and also the Founder Father of ‘Akhil Vishwa Gayatri Pariwar’ which has a huge following.

SDM Harbir Singh said 16 people were killed in the stampede in this popular pilgrim town in the hill State of Uttrakhand.

"It appears that suffocation in the area led to the stampede but exact cause will only come out after an inquiry," he said. Most of the dead were reported to be aged.

District Magistrate Senthil Pandian ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.

Eyewitnesses said the stampede in this holy town occured at around 10.30 AM when a few people tripped while those behind continued to push forward after tens of thousands devotees had gathered to proceed to the fireplace at the ashram to make offerings.

The devotees were climbing stairs to cross a mini bridge ahead of the venue for the religious ceremony ‘Gayatri Mahayagya’, a male survivor said.

The situation soon went out of control and people ran helter-skelter with several women and children falling on the ground.

Uttrakhand Chief Minister B C Khanduri visited the mishap site and announced a compensation of ` two lakh to the kith and kin of each of the victims. A compensation of an identical amount was also announced by Shantikunj Ashram.

District authorities ordered the organisers of the celebrations to call off the five-day event which was due to end on Thursday.

The organisers agreed to end the celebrations tomorrow after a prayer meeting.

Police sources said nearly two lakh people from home and abroad had gathered for the ceremony, which is considered to be biggest after the Kumbh mela.

Police officials blamed the Shantikunj Ashram authorities for not involving the police and district administration in the management of the ceremony where lakhs of people had gathered during the past few days.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal was also holding ‘yajna’ at the ashram when the stampede broke out.

Some of the injured men and women limped as they tried to walk while others were taken away on stretchers.

Ambulances, with sirens screaming, reached the scene and rushed the injured to a makeshift 10-bed hospital that the organisers had set up to deal with emergency situations.

"People fell on each other and resulting stampede killed two in front of me. I don’t even known if my mother, who was shouting for help, is died or alive," a female survivor said.

Meanwhile, stampedes at temples and other religious places in India have claimed nearly 1,000 lives during the last 10 years in the country.

Before today’s stampede at an ashram in Haridwar which claimed 16 lives, there was a huge melee at the famed Sabarimala shrine in Kerala that killed more than 104 devotees on January 14 this year.

More than 60 people were also injured in the stampede which happened when a jeep crashed into homebound pilgrims at Pulmedu, a remote area in Kerala’s Idukki district.

On March 4, 2010, about 63 people were killed and 15 injured when a gate at Kripalu Maharaj’s Ashram at Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh collapsed during distribution of food on the occasion of a ritual, for which nearly 10,000 people had converged.

On September 30, 2008, nearly 250 devotees were killed and over 60 injured in a stampede at Chamunda Devi temple in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur city.

The incident took place when there was a rumour of a bomb going off. More than 10,000 people had turned up at the famous temple for a darshan of the Goddess.

A similar tragedy at the Hindu temple of Naina Devi in Himachal Pradesh on August 3, 2008 had killed over 150 people, mainly women and children, and injured about 230.

On March 27 that year, at least eight devotees were crushed to death and 10 seriously injured in a stampede at a temple in the remote Karila village in Madhya Pradesh.

A stampede at Mandhar Devi temple in Maharashtra claimed 340 lives in January 2005. The accident happened when some people fell down on the steps made slippery by devotees breaking coconuts.

Among other stampedes, at least six people were killed and 12 injured in July 2008 during the annual Jagannath Yatra in Puri, Orissa. In January 2008, five people were killed at Durga Malleswara temple in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh.

In October 2007, 11 people were killed in such a tragedy at Pawagah in Gujarat while in November 2006, four elderly people were crushed to death during a stampede at Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa.

Nealy 40 pilgrims were killed and 125 injured in a stampede at Kumbh Mela in Nasik in August 2003.

On January14, 1999, more than 50 people lost their lives in a stampede at the Pamba base camp near Sabarimala in Kerala. The melee was caused by, among other things, the collapse of the sides of a hillock. (PTI)

AFSPA, security issues on agenda
Unified Hqrs' crucial meet today;

Generals, top cops to brief CM

By Sanjeev Pargal

JAMMU, Nov 8: The Unified Headquarters is holding its crucial meeting here tomorrow afternoon to discuss a host of security related issues including partial withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Top brass of all security agencies including five Army Commanders, heads of other security forces like BSF, CRPF and all Intelligence agencies have either reached here by this evening or would land tomorrow morning to attend the meeting, which would be chaired by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at his official residence at 4 pm tomorrow.

This is first meeting of the Unified Headquarters after shifting of the Civil Secretariat here for next six months of winter and after the row erupted over partial withdrawal of AFSPA last month.

Official sources told the Excelsior that General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C), Northern Command, Lt Gen K T Parnaik, GOC 16 Corps (Nagrota) Lt Gen A S Nandal, GOC 15 Corps (Srinagar) Lt Gen A S Hasnain, GOC 14 Corps (Leh) Lt Gen Ravi Dastane and GOC 9 Corps (Yol Cantonment) Lt Gen A K Chowdhary would be attending the meeting along with Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Chief Secretary Madhav Lal, Home Secretary B R Sharma, Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda, IG BSF A K Jain, IGP Kashmir SM Sahai, IGP Jammu Dilbagh Singh, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Pawan Kotwal, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir Asgar Samoon and all heads of CRPF, Intelligence Bureau (IB), CID and other agencies operating in the State.

This will be first meeting Lt Gen Nandal, GOC 16 Corps, also known as White Knight Corps would be attending as he has assumed charge only few days back following transfer of his predecessor Lt Gen J P Nehra.

Army chief Gen V K Singh has concluded his three days visit to Leh and Kargil only a day before in which he was accompanied by Lt Gen Parnaik and Lt Gen Dastane.

"The AFSPA was expected to dominate the meeting though Unified Headquarters has no powers to revoke it. The meeting will be used for free exchange of views on implications of partial withdrawal of AFSPA among a host of security related issues in the State. The Generals and top brass of police, civil administration, para-military forces and other security and Intelligence agencies will be sharing their view points on security matters and law and order situation across the State'', sources said.

A senior Army officer said: "the Generals will give their view point of the situation especially the AFSPA. They will apprise the Chief Minister about the implications the withdrawal of the Act from certain areas could have. We will share our view point. We are not blindly opposed to withdrawal of the AFSPA but we have a point to make and hopefully the Government will appreciate this.

``If somebody is not firing today, this doesn't mean that he will not fire in future also. Union Home Secretary R K Singh has also said only a day before that terror infrastructure was intact across the State''.

He added that Army was not opposing withdrawal of AFPSA but was only saying that time was not ripe so far for its withdrawal from the State.

According to sources, situation prevailing on the borders, both Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir regions and China border in Leh, more withdrawal of CRPF from urban areas, progress on Rehabilitation Policy for the youth of the State held up in Pakistan and PoK, security scenario in general areas, number of militants operating within the State and those waiting across LoC and IB to infiltrate, infiltration attempts made by the militants in the recent past and successes achieved by security forces and police against the militants would figure in the meeting.

Sources said all security and Intelligence agencies were expected to give their perception of the situation on all security related issues including the AFSPA, which has become a hot topic of debate after Mr Abdullah's statement that the Government could go for partial withdrawal of the Act from some parts of the State.

Though Mr Abdullah didn't mention any areas, there were reports that the Government could revoke Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) from four to six districts including Jammu, Samba, Kathua in Jammu region and Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal in Kashmir region, leading to withdrawal of AFSPA from urban areas of these districts.

Sources added that the Chief Minister was likely to share his perception of situation gathered from different agencies on security scenario including a situation that could emerge in case of partial withdrawal of AFSPA from some areas of four to six districts.

The Chief Minister had said in Goa a day before that the AFSPA could always be re-imposed if the situation warrants so.

The Congress, a major coalition partner in the State Government, would have Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand as its representative in the Unified Headquarters meeting provided that his health permitted him to join it. He is ailing for past few days and had gone to New Delhi for treatment.

The Congress has clear stand now that if Union Home Ministry and Defence Ministry were on same page on the AFSPA, it would have no objections to partial withdrawal of the AFSPA. At the same time, it has said that views of the Army Generals should be taken into consideration.

Sources said senior police officers including Mr Khoda, Mr Sahai and Mr Singh would also give their perception of the situation in addition to the heads of BSF, CRPF, IB and other security and Intelligence agencies in the State.

"There is a fair amount of understanding on a number of security related issues among the various agencies operating in the State'', sources said.

They added that some formulas on partial withdrawal of the AFSPA could be discussed and debated in the Unified Headquarters meeting.

The Government had set up a Core Group on review of DAA comprising Home Secretary B R Sharma, DGP Kuldeep Khoda, GOCs of 15 and 16 Corps, Special Director CRPF and Additional Director General IB.

The DAA was imposed in some parts of the State in 1991 following outbreak of militancy and extended to the entire State in 2001 excepting two districts of Ladakh region including Leh and Kargil. The withdrawal of the DAA from the areas notified by the State Cabinet would automatically lead to withdrawal of AFSPA.

Meanwhile, the Civil Secretariat is re-opening here tomorrow for next six months of the winter.

The Chief Minister will inspect guard of honour in the Secretariat tomorrow morning before the offices start functioning.

Along with the Civil Secretariat, the offices of Raj Bhawan, Police Headquarters and Assembly/Council Secretariat would also re-open tomorrow.

Funds for four more nullahs in phased manner
PC clears ` 35 cr flood protection project for Leh

By Mohinder Verma

JAMMU, Nov 8: In a step aimed at ensuring that flash floods don't cause devastation in future, the Planning Commission has cleared investment of ` 35.83 crore for flood protection and training works on one major nullah in Leh district of the Ladakh region. The funds for other four main nullahs will be released in a phased manner as projects in this regard have already been cleared by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Union Ministry of Urban Development.

Official sources told EXCELSIOR that following massive devastation due to cloud bursts and subsequent flash floods in Leh in August last year, the necessity of carrying out flood protection and training works on all the major nullahs of the district on war footings was felt.

Keeping in view the fund constraints, Prime Minister's Office (PMO) was approached for extending necessary financial assistance so that protection and training works could be initiated. As the PMO agreed to extend financial assistance, the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, set a target of December 31, 2010 for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh for preparation of the Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of five major nullahs of the district.

Accordingly, the LAHDC got the DPRs prepared within the deadline fixed by the Chief Minister and then the projects were submitted to the State Government, which after getting the projects technically cleared from the Central Water Commission (CWC) submitted the same to the PMO early this year, sources said.

The PMO and Union Urban Development Ministry accordingly cleared the projects of Saboo, Phyang, Nimoo, Ney Basgo and Igoo Nullahs involving funds to the tune of ` 279 crore and then the same were forwarded to the Planning Commission for investment clearance of the projects, sources said.

"Now the Planning Commission has given investment clearance to the flood protection and training works on Igoo Nullah", sources said while disclosing that funds for other four nullahs would be released in a phased manner.

"The work on Igoo Nullah is estimated to cost ` 35.83 crore at 2010-11 price level. It will be executed as per approved outlays in the State Plan and completed by March 2013", sources said, adding Planning Commission has directed the Finance Department of State Government to restrict the expenditure to the approved cost.

The Finance Department has also been asked not to allow additional expenditure beyond the approved cost unless the revised estimate is approved by following the prescribed procedure, sources informed.

The project envisages channelization of Igoo nullah for a length of 13.68 kilometer with construction of PCC or gabion wall on both the banks. It also involves construction of 45 check dams across the nullah at suitable intervals.

Like other four nullahs, Igoo is prone to flash floods during heavy rainfall or due to sudden downpour. Its original course got changed during devastating floods in August 2010 jeopardizing the slopes of banks at and around adjacent soft areas. The material eroded and rolled down got deposited in compatibly flatter reaches of the nullah as a result of which flood way got blocked. The meandering course thus made several habitations and adjacent agriculture land susceptible to floods and erosion damages.

"The flood protection and training works along Igoo Nullah would benefit around 38.25 hectares of cultivated land besides homestead land including private and public properties involving nearly 3500 people", sources said.

When contacted, Chief Executive Councillor of LAHDC Leh, Rigzin Spalbar said that Council was also getting Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of other such nullahs prepared. "We have also taken up with the Union Government the issue of providing protection walls along Siachen, Indus and Shyok rivers in the vulnerable areas", he said.

Singh-Gilani meet likely at Maldives

NEW DELHI, Nov 8: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh will leave for the Maldives tomorrow to attend the 17th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation during which he is likely to hold talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on a host of bilateral issues.

The SAARC summit to be held at Addu Atoll in the Maldives on November 10 and 11 is expected to take steps for fostering regional trade and contacts besides setting up a SAARC seeds bank and a rapid action force to tackle natural calamities.

Apart from India, leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives will attend the summit.

Four pacts are likely to be signed at the summit. Two of the agreements deal with custom duties and trade. Besides, the Summit will okay the setting up of a Seeds Bank to boost agriculture and a Rapid Action Force to effectively deal with natural calamities.

India is a votary of increased intra-SAARC contacts through more regional trade and rail and road linkages. New Delhi believes that more regional trade is a pre-requisite for the SAARC region to prosper as a whole.

During the two-day summit, Dr Singh will hold talks on bilteral issues with leaders of different members of the grouping.

All eyes will be on his meeting with the Pakistan premier in which subjects of bilateral interest will be discussed.

The meeting is likely to clear the air on the grant of Most Favoured Nation status by Pakistan to India. Different signals emanating from Pakistan on the grant of MFN status to India have created an atmosphere of uncertainty. The grant of MFN status by Pakistan to India will go a long way in fostering intra-SAARC trade.

After the SAARC summit, Dr Singh will proceed to Male, the capital of the Maldives, for the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister since 2002.

Apart from holing talks with the Maldivian leaders, Dr Singh will address the Maldivian Parliament-Majlis- in an effort to strengthen the bonds between the two nations.

Meanwhile, ahead of the bilateral meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, their Foreign Secretaries met at Gan, Maldives today and agreed that "stable, normal and predictable" bilateral ties were in their interest and the region.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai met his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir at Gan as officials from the SAARC group of nations began arriving for the two-day summit that begins on Thursday.

Mathai and Bashir expressed satisfaction on the engagement process. They also discussed matters relating to the forthcoming meeting between Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in the Maldives.

"Both sides reviewed the status of bilateral relations with a view to carrying forward the process of dialogue. They expressed satisfaction on the engagement process," according to a press release from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

"The talks were held in a cordial and constructive atmosphere. It was agreed that stable, normal and predictable relations between Pakistan and India were in the interest of both countries and the region as a whole," it said.

On the issue of Pakistan granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status to India, Bashir told a TV channel that this will be discussed when the Commerce Secretaries of the two countries meet in Islamabad later this month.

Pakistan Cabinet last week decided to grant MFN status to India but later it gave confusing signals by saying that it was only a move for normalisation of bilateral trade relations that will "culminate" with MFN.

"Our trade Commerce Ministers had a successful meeting in New Delhi," Bashir said, adding that both sides will move forward on the trade front.

At the meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries, the two nations also discussed "regional cooperation under the SAARC framework and agreed to promote this in a holistic manner."

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik was also present during the meeting.

This was the first meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries after Mathai took charge in August.

Officials from the SAARC nations also met today to discuss the declaration that will come out of the summit that will see heads of Governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka hold talks. (PTI)

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