NEW DELHI - In India, the death toll at a deadly stampede in the northern Allahabad city, where a Hindu religious festival is under way, has gone up to 36. More than 30 others have been injured. The tragedy occurred on the holiest day of the 55-day festival, billed as the world’s largest religious gathering.
Thousands of policemen and paramilitary forces were deployed to manage a crowd of 30 million devotees who had gathered on the busiest day of the Hindu festival to take a dip in the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at Allahabad.
But the deadly crush took place not in the temporary city where devotees gather, but at the nearby rail station from where pilgrims transit to and from the Kumbh Mela. Many of those killed or injured were women.
There were conflicting reports about what happened at the rail station.
Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal says the number of people who had gathered at the station was much higher than it could accommodate, resulting in a stampede.
He denied reports that the hand railing on a foot bridge gave way under the weight of the crowd.
Bansal says arrangements were adequate, and he attributed the tragedy to overcrowding.
Some pilgrims at the station say police used batons to control the crowds, triggering panic.
Eyewitnesses say ambulances could not reach the victims in time, because of the masses thronging the station and the streets outside.
The railways operate dozens of special trains to accommodate the massive influx into the town during festival. The crowds swell hugely on six days regarded by astrologers as the most auspicious. Sunday was the holiest of these days.
The event, held every 12 years, is known as the world’s largest religious gathering attracting as many as 100 million devotees over 55 days. Hindus believe a dip in the holy waters at Hindu religion’s most sacred spot cleanses their sins.
The manager of the Kumbh Mela, Om Prakash Srivastava, told VOA that the crowds on Sunday were unprecedented.
He says devotees are still pouring in to the festival, but the numbers have lessened and they are not expecting crowds of the same magnitude. He says considering the size of the crowd, the best arrangements sometimes do not suffice.
Stampedes have taken place at religious gatherings and temples on several occasions, prompting calls for better crowd management strategies in a country where it is common for hundreds of thousands of people to congregate at such events.