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Stampede toll rises to 36; Railways struggling to deal with Kumbh rush

Allahabad, Feb 11 (PTI): Frantic relatives on Monday mobbed officials seeking information about victims of Sunday’s stampede in which 36 persons died. The railways had a tough time dealing with the rush of 30 million Kumbh devotees thronging the city.

There were chaotic scenes at the railway station and local hospitals here treating the 39 injured in the tragedy with relatives struggling to get information.

North Central Railways said a probe will be initiated after clearing the rush of pilgrims.

“A probe will follow once we are through with ferrying pilgrims back to the places they had arrived from”, Alok Johri, General Manager of the North Central Railway zone, told PTI.

The Chief Medical Officer of Allahabad, Dr Prabhakar, said 14 more people died during treatment, taking the death toll to 36.

The victims include 26 women, 9 men and a child. Bodies of 20 of the deceased have been identified.

Taking moral responsibility for the stampede, UP Cabinet Minister Mohammad Azam Khan resigned as the in-charge of Kumbh Mela.

“Though the incident took place outside the Kumbh Mela premises, I take moral responsibility and resign as the in-charge of the Kumbh. I am sending my resignation to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav”, Khan told reporters in Lucknow.

The stampede occurred at 7 pm on Sunday at Platforms No 5 and 6 of Allahabad Railway Station where thousands of passengers, mostly Maha Kumbh devotees returning after taking the holy dip at the Sangam on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya, had gathered to board a train.

At the Swaroop Rani Nehru Hospital in the city where at least 25 injured persons are admitted, some of them in a critical condition, Divisional Commissioner of Allahabad Devesh Chaturvedi and Dr S P Singh, Principal of Motilal Nehru Medical College to which the hospital is attached, were mobbed by people angry over “lack of proper care and facilities”.

The officials, who had visited the hospital to take stock of the relief work, had a tough time assuaging the frayed tempers.

Some of the bereaved people complained that they were being prevented from taking away the bodies of their near and dear ones.

The official requested them to “have patience till the post-mortem and other formalities” were complete.

Similar scenes were witnessed at the Railway hospital, situated close to the station, where 14 others who have sustained injuries in the stampede that had occurred near platform number 6, are undergoing treatment.

In Delhi, Railway Minister P K Bansal announced Rs one lakh as compensation for the families of those killed in the stampede.

“We have announced Rs 1 lakh announced for the next kin of the deceased in the incident and Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured persons and Rs 25,000 for those who have suffered simple injury in the stampede,” he said.

About the arrangement, he said 220 trains were arranged for the occasion besides 212 regular trains which pass through Allahabad and adjoining stations.

“There are enclosures made for catering to the passengers for 220 special trains. Now we are pressing more trains to clear the rush,” he said.

“There are three more holy baths in the coming days. We have to strengthen the arrangement,” he said.

Nearly 6,000 additional buses are being run to clear the city in general and the Kumbh Mela area in particular of the exceptionally large number of devotees who had arrived to take a holy dip on the auspicious occasion of Mauni Amavasya” and were still stuck up here, official sources said.

The administration claimed that nearly three crore devotees had visited the city since Saturday night for the bathing festival.

Meanwhile, those who managed to escape from the tragedy with minor bruises gave divergent accounts of what could have triggered the stampede on Sunday.

Ajay Kumar from Banda said, “We were told that our train will be available at platform number 4. While crossing the foot over-bridge, we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that the train will be coming on platform number 6.

“We started running back, trying to plough through a huge crowd headed in the opposite direction.In the process, some of the people tripped and people started falling over each other,” he said.

However, Praveen from Sonepat in Haryana blames the incident on “lathi charge by police”.

Praveen said, “There was a very huge crowd trying to descend from the over-bridge to catch their train on platform number 6. Unable to handle the situation, policemen began wielding their batons. Had they acted more sensibly, the stampede could have been avoided”.

The allegation of baton charge has, however, been denied by both Divisional Railway Manager Harindra Rao and DIG (Railway) Lalji Shukla.