Allahabad: In a major tragedy on the most auspicious day of the Maha Kumbh on Sunday, at least 36 pilgrims were killed and many were injured in a stampede at the Allahabad railway station. Authorities fear the death toll could rise further. Eyewitnesses say a police lathicharge triggered the chaos.
"The platform was meant for passengers who had reservations and for the ladies special. But there was no room for the other crowds that started pouring in. The arrangements were in place," Allahabad railway DIG Adhiram Sharma said.
Eyewitnesses said the stampede at Platform No 6 was triggered near a foot overbridge when hundreds of passengers rushed to board a train whose arrival was being announced in a public address system. Platform No 6 was later sealed by authorities. The bodies of some of the victims shrouded in white cloth were kept at the platform for several hours.
Several eyewitnesses said there was a lathicharge by the police that compounded the panic but Divisional Railway Manager Harinder Rao claimed passengers were not baton charged and that police only attempted to regulate the movement of the crowd at the platforms by asking passengers to stand in line.
Preliminary reports said the stampede broke out when the railing leading to a footbridge collapsed but Railways Minister PK Bansal discounted such a possibility saying this had not happened. Bansal said overcrowding at the platforms may have led to the stampede. A police officer said an estimated 4,000 people were present at one single point at the site where the stampede occurred.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the loss of lives in the tragedy and instructed Railway ministry to provide all possible assistance. Singh also directed central government departments to extend all possible help to Uttar Pradesh government in relief operations.
The UP government ordered an inquiry into the stampede and asked the Railways to make proper arrangements to clear rush of devotees and sanctioned an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh to the kin of each of the dead persons. "The state government has ordered an inquiry into the entire incident. The 'snan' at Kumbh was completed without any problem...the unfortunate incident took place at the railway station..Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has ordered an inquiry into the incident", SP spokesman and cabinet minister Rajendra Chowdhury said. Chairman Revenue Board has been asked by the Chief Minister to inquire into the incident and submit his report to him.
Over three crore people had converged for a holy dip on the occasion of 'Mauni Amavasya' today, a day considered the most auspicious day during the 12-yearly congregation. A total of 112 trains routinely passes through Allahabad and an additional 49 special trains were being operated on Sunday.
BJP leader Uma Bharti, who visited the accident site and later met the injured, questioned the arrangements made by Railways ahead of the religious gathering. Meanwhile, a number of volunteers have joined the relief work and are offering assistance at the railway station, the railway hospital and the SRN Hospital.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded investigation into the incident. BJP President Rajnath Singh said, "If precaution was taken from the start, this would not have happened. Investigations need to be carried out, those responsible need to be punished."
Here are the helplines numbers:
New Delhi Railway Station helpine: 011-23342954, 011-23341074
Nizamuddin Railway Station helpline: 011-24357660
Chandauli and Mughalsarai Railway Stations helpline number: 05412-73678, 05412-254115
(With additional information from PTI)