BHOPAL, India (AFP) - Twenty-one police and government officials have been suspended over a stampede near a temple that killed 115 people, as recriminations fly over India's latest religious festival disaster, police said on Tuesday.
Devotees were crushed to death or drowned on Sunday near the temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, the site of another deadly stampede only seven years earlier.
Survivors of the tragedy, which broke out on a bridge, recounted how desperate mothers threw their children into the water below, as authorities came under fire over policing levels following claims that the panic was aggravated by baton-charging.
All 17 police at the local station have been suspended for failing to prevent the tragedy in the town of Ratangarh, deputy police inspector general D. K. Arya told AFP.
"We have suspended the entire staff of the concerned police station which includes two sub-inspectors and 15 other officers for not doing their duty of regulating the crowd and preventing the stampede," he said.
A commission of inquiry was expected to focus on the officers as part of its investigation into exactly what happened and who was to blame.
"It is going to be difficult for these men as a judicial commission will now probe the role of these officers who have been removed from their posts," Arya said.
The state government said it was also suspending four officials, the district collector, the sub-divisional magistrate and two senior police officers.
The government released a statement late on Monday announcing all of the suspensions, after the chief minister was heckled during a tour on Monday of one of the hospitals where victims were being treated.
The tragedy cast a long shadow over celebrations marking the finale of the nine-day Navratri festival, dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga.
Police and witnesses said the panic had been sparked by rumours that the bridge was about to collapse.
Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple when the stampede took place, while there were around 20,000 people on the bridge, which spans the river Sindh.
The disaster comes only seven years after another stampede outside the same temple. More than 50 people were crushed to death while crossing the river, after which authorities built the bridge.