At least 22 devotees, including women and children, were killed and many injured in two stampedes during the ongoing Mahakumbh at Allahabad on Sunday.
The toll may go up as many of the injured are stated to be in critical condition. The injured have been admitted to Medical College Hospital in Allahabad, sources said.
While 20 devotees were killed in a stampede at the Allahabad junction railway station, two others died in Sector 12 of Kumbhnagar, the makeshift township on the banks of the Sangam.
Uttar Pradesh Minister for Urban Development Azam Khan, who is also the minister in-charge of Mahakumbh Mela, confirmed 20 deaths.
According to Divisional Railway Manager Harendra Rai, the incident occurred after some people slipped on the stairs at Platform No 6 following a heavy rush of devotees.
There were, however, conflicting reports over what caused the stampede. According to eyewitness accounts, the stampede occurred when a portion of the iron railings on the foot over-bridge over Platform No 5 and 6 caved in under pressure of the crowds. Another account attributed the stampede to lathi charge by police personnel at Platform No 6. Rai denied that police resorted to lathi charge.
Chaos prevailed at the railway station as lakhs of devotees reached the station to board trains after taking the holy dip in the Sangam waters on “Mauni Amavasya” on Sunday, the most auspicious occasion of the Mahakumbh. Over three crore devotees from across the world had descended here on Sunday.
“There were an estimated two lakh people at the station. The capacity of the station is around 40,000. There were not enough trains,” said a railway official.
The Uttar Pradesh government has requested the Railway Ministry to immediately arrange special trains for the return of the devotees. “Millions of devotees are still in Allahabad city and are looking for transport to go back home. The situation will turn worse if immediate arrangements are not made,” said a senior UP government official.
The state government has constituted a committee to inquire into the circumstances leading to the stampede at the railway station. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of the kin of the deceased and Rs 1 lakh each to the seriously injured.
Police officials said all entry and exit points at Allahabad Railway Station had been sealed and no one is being allowed in or out of the station. “Lakhs of people are outside the station waiting. Movement of trains was also affected,” the official said. Senior officials had reached the station and relief and rescue operation has been launched.
In Delhi, Railway Minister Pawan Bansal said special trains were being arranged to bring back passengers from Allahabad.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh instructed the Ministry of Railways and all other departments of the Union Government to provide all possible assistance to the Uttar Pradesh government in relief operations in the aftermath of the stampede at Allahabad railway station.
“I am deeply shocked to learn of the unfortunate incident at the railway station, in which precious lives have been lost and many pilgrims to Kumbh Mela among other people have been injured,” Singh said.
“I send my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved families and wish those injured a speedy recovery,” he added.