Rescue and security personnel carry a devotee on a stretcher who was injured after the floor covering a stepwell collapsed at a temple in Indore on March 30, 2023. Photo: AFP
A popular temple in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh turned into a deathtrap on Thursday, after its floor caved in and people fell inside a giant well underneath. Indian news outlets have reported 35 deaths so far at the Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore city. Authorities said that most casualties were the result of either drowning or suffocation. India is currently celebrating the Hindu festival of Ram Navami, and there was a ceremony being held to mark the occasion when the disaster struck, authorities said. The temple is built on top of an ancient giant well with winding steps, which hadn’t been operational for years and was temporarily covered up with tiles.
Operations involving nearly 140 rescuers ended on Friday afternoon after 14 people were pulled out of the debris. Videos show police and disaster units pulling people out from a giant hole on the ground with broken tiles and iron grills protruding out. In one video, a rescuer is seen pulling up a woman with a rope tied around her. The rope snapped and the woman was seen falling back inside the well lined with steps.
Authorities told the media that over 30 people were inside the temple at 11.30 a.m. on Thursday for prayers when the tiles broke and people fell in. India’s religious tourism economy in India is estimated to be worth $40 billion, but it’s riddled with problems, including poor maintenance of historical sites, and serious accidents are common. In October, at least 132 people plunged to their deaths from a bridge in India’s Gujarat state after its century-old cable suspension snapped.
Many residents and devotees are now blaming the temple management for serious mismanagement. Rajnikant Patel, a relative of Ganga Patel, a man who died at the disaster, told Hindustan Times that the stone slab lacked support and blamed the temple administration and trustees for the deaths. The incident has shone a spotlight on the temple’s safety record, which includes multiple notices from Indore’s municipality over collapsed flooring. The Times of India cited an official document that stated that Indore’s municipal corporation had marked the temple for demolition due to the dangerous flooring, but didn’t go ahead after the Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal Temple Trust told them it would harm religious sentiment.
NDTV reported that the temple also received a notice last year over complaints that the temple trust built the structure illegally over a park and the stepwell. The trust denies allegations of encroachment and claims the temple is 100 years old. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chouhan has announced INR 5,00,000 ($6,079) will be paid in compensation to the families of the deceased and INR 50,000 ($607) to the injured. He’s also ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.