Six pilgrims, all women, died due to suffocation during a mad rush of the crowds to board a vessel at Kachuberia on their way home from Gangasagar fair after taking the holy dip, a minister said. More than 35 people have been injured in the incident, according to CNN-News18.
"Six aged women died at Kachuberia temporary hospital due to heart attack. They had fallen senseless due to suffocation," Manturam Pakhira, state Sundarbans development minister, told IANS over phone.
"The mishap occurred as the pilgrims got impatient due to the long queue at jetty number five in Kachuberia and tried to outdo others in boarding the vessel," he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sadness over the loss of lives in the West Bengal stampede and sanctioned Rs 2 lakh for next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured.
"Saddened by the loss of lives caused by a stampede in West Bengal. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased," the Prime Minister tweeted.
"My prayers with those injured in the stampede in West Bengal. May they recover quickly," he added. He approved ex-gratia from PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) of Rs 2 lakh for next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured in the stampede.
The injured have been admitted to Kakdweep Hospital and Diamond Harbour Sub-Divisional Hospital in Kolkata, which is 150 km from the famous Hindu pilgrim spot, according to Hindustan Times. The newspaper report also puts the number of casualties as seven, with six women and one child reported as dead even as official confirmation on the exact number of casualties is awaited.
The stampede occured at around 6 pm when there was a huge rush of pilgrims to board vessels to reach Kolkata, the officials said adding all of them were middle aged and are yet to be identified.
A search has been launched and naval divers have been deployed to search for anyone who may have fallen into Muriganga river (distributor of the Hooghly river) during the mad rush, officials said.
The fair, that takes place every year on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on the Sagar island, sees lakhs of people from all over the nation gather each year to take the holy dip in the River Ganga before it merges with the Bay of Bengal.
The only way to reach the island is through mini jetties that ferry between the mainland and the island where the Ganga flows into the Bay of Bengal. Therefore, massive crowd amassing near the docks, during the holy fair is not an uncommon incident, and the administration is usually prepared for crowd management.
However, the incident happened towards the end of the festival and the pilgrims were on their way back and were trying to board a launch at the jetty number five at the Kachuberia ghats.
The jetties can only traverse the river during high tides, which makes the commute slow as devotees have to wait for hours before the ferries can set sail. Therefore, when a large number of pilgrims hurried to board the launch before the high tide withdrew, the chaos triggered a stampede like situation that has so far claimed the lives of six people.
State Panchayat and Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee said the pilgrims were involved in a mad rush to board the vessels in view of the approaching low tide which would have halted launch movement on the river for hours.
According to CNN-News18, the situation has now been brought under control. Further details are awaited from the authorities.
Around 1.6 million pilgrims from across India and abroad had gathered at Sagar island, around 150 km from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, this year for the annual Gangsagar Mela on Makar Sankranti. The bathing had started from Friday night.
This island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who converge here at this time of the year to take the holy dip and pray by offering a coconut at the Kapil Muni temple.
The Ganga Sagar Mela is rated as the second largest assembly of people after the quadrennial Kumbha Mela (fair).
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jan 15, 2017 22:13:45 IST