Silchar: At least five people died at different locations on Bhuban hill, a 17th century Shiva shrine in Assam’s Cachar district bordering Manipur, when thousands were climbing up to celebrate Shivaratri on March 1.
Bhuvan Mela is organised on the Bhuban hill every year on the occasion of Shivratri. Thousands of people from across the state visit the historic Shiva temple located on top of the hill, about 50 km from Silchar town.
Locals said the Shiva Chaturdashi at Bhuban hill returned to its usual festive mood after two years of the pandemic. And tragedy stuck despite the Cachar administration having arranged tight security and other facilities for the safety of pilgrims.
On Tuesday morning, thousands of devotees set out to climb the Bhuban hill through the two roads – Amraghat Krishnapur and Matinagar. Official estimates say about four lakh pilgrims likely climbed to the hill shrine in two days. Several videos put out on social media showed stampede-like situation in Hathubhanga area of the hill.
The deceased persons have been identified as Anand Ghatowar (35), Sanjay Das (37), Vikram Paul (31), N Kurmi (52) and S Chakraborthy (55), all residents of Silchar and surrounding areas. While two of the bodies were recovered on the same day, three more bodies were found the next day on Wednesday, the police said.
A senior police official said there was a sudden outpour of devotees but denied any stampede situation. The Cachar administration said at least 80,000 people had to be rescued from the hill in the Hathubhanga area by Aapda Mitra volunteers and DDMA officials.
“There was no stampede. The route was steeply inclined and people got stuck there. They were brought down within a short time,” said Subrata Sen, Additional Superintendent of Police, Cachar.
The Cachar administration, however, distanced itself from the reason behind the deaths, claiming there was no negligence in terms of safety and security measures.
“A total of five dead bodies have been recovered from Bhubhan hill and none of them died due to congestion at the bend of Hatubhanga. All five are males,” a statement from the Cachar administration said on Thursday.
The statement added that the post-mortem report of V Paul and A Ghatowar revealed the cause of their death as natural, they suffered a stroke.
“S Das, who was along with his family, seems to have been suffering some disease. N Kurmi, whose body was located near a temporary hotel, died due to shivering from cold, as confirmed by a nearby vendor. S Chakraborthy seemed to have slipped on his way to the temple,” the administration’s statement said.
Deputy Commissioner of Cachar Keerthi Jalli had visited the Bhuvan Hill ahead of the festival last Saturday and took stock of the arrangements. A committee was also formed to monitor the proceedings of the festival.
“We were informed by the administration that people got stuck on the hill while ascending. We rushed to the spot and helped people to move down. The assistant commissioner also assisted us. No one was allowed thereafter to ascend the hill using this route,” said Biprojit Deb, field officer of Aapda Mitra.
The police department, however, maintained that decorum was kept during this year’s festival by preventing alcohol in the area.
“We carried out massive raids and destroyed huge quantities of spurious liquor. All the pilgrims were checked and alcohol was confiscated. For the first time such strict vigil was maintained during the Mahashivratri festival at Bhuban Hills,” an official said.
Every year, about 2.5 lakh people visit the Bhuban shrine during Mahashivaratri. The Assam government has now taken up construction of an all-weather road connecting the hill. Assam Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma recently announced an amount of Rs 10 crore for developing infrastructure in the area.
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