At least 24 people were killed and scores of others injured tonight in a stampede at Allahabad railway station teeming with thousands of pilgrims returning after a holy dip at the 'Maha Kumbh' in Allahabad.
Divisional Railway Manager of Allahabad, Harindra Rao, said 10 people died at the station itself while the remaining 12 succumbed to injuries on way to hospital.
Rao also said over 20 people are undergoing treatment at the Railway Hospital and the SRN Hospital in the city and the condition of 15 of them is stated to be critical.
A senior police officer and highly placed sources said 20 people died in the stampede that occurred at 7 PM when Platform No 5 and 6 were packed with thousands of passengers.
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.
The UP government has 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' on Sunday, a day considered the most auspicious day during the 12-yearly congregation. A total of 112 trains routinely passes through Allahabad and an additiona9 special trains were being operated on Sunday.
A majority of the dead was thought to be women and elderly men. Some of them rolled down the stairs amid the jostle by passengers to reach the departing train.
"Mera pitha shaheed ho gaye?,(Is my father dead?)" screamed a middle-aged woman at a hospital on hearing that her father had succumbed to his injuries sustained in the stampede.
It is feared that the toll may go up since the condition of some of the injured were in a critical condition.
TV footage showed a grief-stricken man in tears as he cried for medical help for his father who lay on the platform.
Eyewitnesses said some bodies lay unattended for several hours amid complaints there was no proper coordination among the agencies concerned after the mishap.
"For crowd management, the police resorted to lathicharge," an injured passenger said.
PM condoles loss of lives
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday night condoled the loss of lives in the stampede and assured financial assistance to the families of those killed and to the injured.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Hamid Ansari also deeply condoled the death of Kumbh pilgrims and wished speedy recovery for the injured.
The Prime Minister directed Railway Ministry to provide all necessary assistance to the affected persons and said the Central government will extend all possible help to the state government in relief operations.
"I am deeply shocked to learn of the unfortunate incident at the Allahabad Railway station today, in which precious lives have been lost and many pilgrims to Kumbh Mela among other people have been injured," he said in a statement.
"I send my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved families and wish those injured a speedy recovery. I have issued instructions to Ministry of Railways to provide all necessary assistance to the affected persons," Singh said.