Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), Aug. 28: Krishna Pushkaram, dubbed the Maha Kumbh of south India, got off to a grim start as five persons drowned in the river — four of them flung into it by a stampede at Vijayawada.
The stampede was triggered on a dilapidated portion of a ramp adjacent to Prakasham barrage when devotees were heading for the showers after taking a holy dip at the Krishnaveni ghat. The newly installed steel barriers gave way under the crush of people who began pushing and shoving in panic. A part of the ramp, too, collapsed throwing several people into the water. A man, two women and a 14-year-old boy were drowned.
Over 20 persons were injured, said police officials, who have closed the ghat. “It is unfortunate that due to heavy rush in the early hours at the particular ghat there was a stampede. Now everything is under control,” said Krishna district collector K. Prabhakar Reddy.
The ghat was packed with devotees mostly from Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam who wanted to take the dip before sunrise at the auspicious moment of the confluence of Jupiter and Virgo.
Across the barrage, an engineering student who went into the river in a non-ghat area drowned. Police said he could not swim and was sucked in by the strong current.
Devotees are expected to take a dip at 192 ghats specially constructed along the 708-km course of the Krishna in Andhra Pradesh during the 12-day pushkaram.
The incident embarrassed the Congress government which was planning to put on a show on a par with the Godavari Pushkaram organised by the previous Telugu Desam Party government.
Chief secretary Mohan Kanda ordered the transfer of Krishna collector Prabhakar Reddy and Vijayawada police commissioner T. Krishna Prasad within hours after the chief minister admitted to human lapse. Over 10 junior level officers involved in the preparations of the pushkaram have been suspended.
“Nobody will be spared. It is definitely an unpardonable human error. The unfortunate incident should not have occurred at all,” said Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy at Srisailam. The government has appointed senior IAS officer R.C. Samal, the chief commissioner of land records, to conduct a high-level inquiry into the stampede. “I have directed that the detailed inquiry be completed in seven days,” Reddy said.
The chief minister, who is heli-hopping across the districts criss-crossed by the Krishna to participate in the pushkaram, cancelled all his programmes in Vijayawada.
Soon after arriving at Vijayawada, the chief minister rushed to NTR Health University General Hospital and visited the injured. He handed over cheques for Rs 50,000 to each of them and announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the families of the dead.