At least 39 persons were killed and scores injured in a major stampede at Ram Kund in Nashik around 1:30 pm when lakhs of pilgrims gathered for the holy dip on the occasion of Shahi Snan.
However, Nashik divisional commissioner, Vimalendra Mishra said that 30 persons were reported dead. At least 150 were missing, mostly children and women. Municipal and Naval divers were searching for the missing.
The injured were admitted to the civil hospital. Mishra informed that the injured were mainly from UP and Bihar.
Giving details of the incident, he said that the pilgrims had crowded the Sardar Chowk in the narrow by-lanes leading to Ramkund. "Everybody wanted to reach Ramkund at the earliest," Mishra said when asked about the cause of the stampede.
Police Commissioner PT Lohar stated that after the Shahi Snan (royal bath) some sadhus threw silver coins and toffees at pilgrims which they rushed to collect leading to the stampede.
According to Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal the pilgrims diverted from the regulated pathway, leading to chaos. He later ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.
The Purohit Sangh issued SOS announcements for the relatives of the missing. The helpline at Nashik Civil Hospital can be accessed over phone number 0253-2573936.
The government has announced Rs. 2 lakh each for the families of the deceased. Those injured would also be given compensation.
Officials had made elaborate arrangements for the occasion since more than 50 lakh pilgrims were expected for the holy dip today being the Sravani Amavasya. The police had also pulled in additional companies in view of Monday's blasts in Mumbai.
Relatives dismayed with police arrangements
The shocked relatives of the victims, however, put the blame for the tragedy on the police. Ramchandra Yadav, who lost his mother said, "There are hardly any exit routes. With people coming in hordes and only narrow lanes to pass through, a major tragedy was just waiting to happen."
"The police didn't seem to have any clue on how to handle the situation. It has gone overboard in making security arrangements but nothing for us," said Agnivesh Jha, who lost his wife.
"Whenever there was a slight deviation from the pathway set by the police, the constables would charge down our neck, resulting in panic," Jha said. "The government has announced Rs. 2 lakh as compensation, but can any amount bring back our loved ones" he asked.