Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Pushkaram Stampede: Death toll rises to 27

Twenty-nine pilgrims, 23 of them women, were crushed to death in a stampede on the first day of Godavari Maha Pushkaralu, considered the 'Mahakumbh of south', on Tuesday.

Around 50 people were hospitalized; the condition of 15 of them is critical.

Sources said 5,000 pilgrims were thronging Pushkara Ghat in Andhra Pradesh's Rajahmundry at 8.30 am with another 1 lakh people queuing outside the main venue when the stampede broke out.

Most of the victims were women and some of them have not been identified yet. The injured were rushed to Government Hospital in the city. The stampede occurred at around 8.30 am, about an hour after chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu left the ghat. Preliminary information indicates that a large number of pilgrims were kept waiting due to the presence of VVIPs including the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues besides a large group of bureaucrats and other VIPs for more than two hours.

Huge crowd, poor crowd-control, closing of the ghat for more than two hours after pushkaram began since VIPs were taking holy dip apparently led to the stampede at Rajahmundry.

Soon after the VVIPs left the premises after the inauguration, pilgrims jostled with one another reach the ghat. As crowds swelled, the pilgrims pushed each other resulting in the stampede near the Fort gate of the Kotagummam. Adding to the chaos, the police personnel used mild force to control the crowds. Minutes later, several women were found unconscious and a dozen others were injured. They were all rushed to the hospital but to of no avail. The condition of 14 others who are under treatment is reported to be critical.

According to eye witness accounts, the stampede took place because the devotees were anxious to have holy dip in the pushkar, which is the main ghat in Rajahmundry though there are quite a number of ghats along the river bank. They said that the barricading of the pushkar ghat has in fact led to the stampede as the pilgrims did not move in the queue but tried to squeeze through the barricades to enter the ghat as there the rush was unimaginable.

Another problem was that the authorities had arranged only one passage into the ghat as a result of which those who were getting in and those who are getting out pushed each other in opposite directions. "When such a huge crowd collects, the movement should be unidirectional only. If the passage is meant for pilgrims moving in both the directions it is the perfect recipe for disaster. At Pushkar ghat this is what has happened," an official on condition of anonymity, said.

As this time, the pushakaram is called Maha Pushkaram, the crowd that descended on this fist sized town was quite huge, beyond the expectations of the officials. This apart, though there is VIP ghat, the VIPS including Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu chose to take holy dip at pushkar ghat only. This has forced the officials to close the ghat for more than two hours and the crowd kept swelling outside the ghat. After Naidu et al left at about 8 a.m., the ghat was thrown open to ordinary pilgrims and all of them tried to move at once. This apart, those who had already taken the holy dip began coming out of the ghat and the two streams of the people began pushing the other away.

"The people were packed like sardines at the ghat. There is not even an inch of room left between one person and the another. In this kind of situation, if a small portion of the crowd loses balance, it would lead to a domino effect. This is what has happened," the official said. Though Saraswathi Ghat has been prepared for the VIPs, which is less than one km away from the pushkar ghat, the chief minister and the other ministers took the holy dip at the pushakar only. This apart, the vehicles of the chief minster and the ministers were parked on the road which drastically reduced the space necessary for easy movement of people, eye witnesses said.

Chandrababu Naidu who is reviewing the situation with his deputy Nimmakayala China Rajappa asked the officials to stagger the crowds so the pilgrims would be distributed evenly to other ghats but the officials are not able to make much progress in implementing his direction. Naidu later vistied the victims undergoing treatment.

Tuesday 14 July 2015


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