Indian police blame lax safety for deadly temple stampede

LUCKNOW: Police Friday accused authorities at a Hindu temple in northern India where 63 women and children died in a stampede of flouting safety rules, as they filed a case of criminal negligence.

The temple authorities "flouted safety rules and were not equipped to control the crowd," senior police official M.K. Mishra told AFP, saying police had registered a case of criminal negligence.

Mishra's statement came as officials continued the grim task of identifying bodies and some families cremated the victims in the temple town of Pratapgarh, 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Uttar Pradesh state capital Lucknow.

Twenty-six women and 37 children were crushed to death and over 100 people were injured in the stampede in Uttar Pradesh state when a gate collapsed, triggering panic among the 10,000-strong crowd.

The devotees gathered at the Ram Janki temple in the Kripaluji Maharaj ashram were jostling to collect free food and clothes when the disaster occurred.

"We will not spare anyone" in the investigation, Mishra said.

Police said the ashram's religious leader, 88-year-old Kripaluji Maharaj, was distributing gifts to the poor to mark the anniversary of the death of his wife but had no police permission to organise the event.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his sadness at the deaths and announced a payment of 200,000 rupees (4,000 dollars) to the family members of the dead and 50,000 rupees (1,000 dollars) to the injured.

Police said the religious leader was at the ashram Friday, dismissing local media reports that he had fled.

Stampedes at religious events in India are common as large numbers of excited worshippers pack into congested areas. Panic can spread quickly and, with few safety regulations in place, the result is often lethal.

The worst recent incident was in October 2008 when around 220 people died near a temple inside Jodhpur's famous Mehrangarh Fort.