More than 90 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a stampede as they crossed a bridge to reach a temple in central India.

Police claimed the stampede was caused by panic among pilgrims who feared the bridge they were crossing was about to collapse, but survivors it was caused by a baton charge by police to impose order.

The victims died in the stampede or fell into the River Sindh below and drowned. Some of them had thrown stones at the police in retaliation.

They were among 20,000 pilgrims on the bridge trying to join another 400,000 at the ancient Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district 230 miles from Bhopal.

Police said they fear the death toll could rise to above 100.

D K Arya, Deputy Inspector General of Police in Chambal said devotees from Uttar Pradesh had started the rumour that bridge was collapsing.

“The stamped was caused by the rumour of a bridge collapse. We are at present concentrating on the rescue. We can confirm the death of 60 people in the stampede and by drowning.”

“There is no truth in the allegation that we used force to control the devotees,” he said.

Most of the devotees were trampled alive on the narrow bridge, while over 20 people are feared drowned drowned after they jumped into the river to escape.

A search operation was launched on the river to rescue the missing while more than 150 people were treated in local hospitals.

Eyewitnesses said police used force to control unruly devotees, who in turn pelted them with stones, triggering the stampede.

“There were thousands of devotees waiting to reach the temple. Policemen were trying to keep them in order and used batons, which led to the chaos,” said Dhamramkant Singh, a devotee.

Police said there were more than 25,000 worshipers were present at the time of the stampede and that they fear the toll will increase.

Half a million devotees had gathered at the temple to celebrate the 10-day Hindu Durga Puja festival.

The incident is the latest in a series of stampede tragedies at Hindu pilgrimage sites. In February this year, 36 pilgrims returning from the Kumbh Mela died at Allahabad railway station after a footbridge collapsed. In January 2011, 102 people were killed in a stampede at Sabarimala temple Kerala !