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Stampede kills five in station

New Delhi, Nov. 13: One of India's busiest railway stations turned into a death trap today, crushing five women headed to the railway minister's home state for the festival season.

The stampede broke out at New Delhi Railway Station this afternoon while hundreds of passengers were trying to board the Patna-bound Jan Sadharan Express, which witnesses said was kept locked on the platform for over two hours.

The platform was teeming with passengers who were going home for Chhat Puja and Id, both of which fall next week.

The stampede started on a bridge linking platforms 2 and 3 when a woman ' later identified by police as Kanta Goel ' was pushed from behind and fell.

Kanta was among the dead, while another has been identified as Laxmi. The identity of the three others has not been established till late tonight. More than 10 were injured.

Many passengers said the crowd had spilled on to the staircase of the bridge because the doors of the train were shut and no one was able to board it.

The train, due to leave at 3.10 pm, had been brought to Platform No. 3 at 11 am but for some unexplained reason no door was opened.

The crowd grew restless and some of the people tried to open the doors. 'Suddenly, there was a surge of people towards the train and someone pushed this lady who was coming down the steps,' said Bhiku Ram, a passenger.

Sonu, a student, said enough police personnel were not at hand. Others said the handful of policemen present tried to control the crowd by lashing out with their batons, which added to the chaos.

A senior railway official denied this, claiming that someone created confusion by shouting that the train has left.

The official said the normal strength of the Railway Protection Force was doubled to 200 for the festival season and local police constables had also been roped in. But many passengers asked whether a force of 200-plus was sufficient for a station with 12 platforms.

Railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, who was earlier regaling Indians at the Abu Dhabi airport on his way back from the funeral of Yasser Arafat, was among those who rushed to the railway hospital nearby to look up the injured.

The minister sanctioned Rs 1 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed, Rs 15,000 for the injured and Rs 5,000 for those with minor injuries, Northern Railway later said.

Laloo Prasad has ordered an inquiry. With Bihar elections expected early next year, a few heads could roll in the railway for failing to make arrangements to manage the heavy rush.

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