Stampede at religious festival in Andhra kills 29 pilgrims

  • Tragedy on the first day of maha pushkaras at Rajmundry

Lata Jain

At least 29 pilgrims, 19 of them women, died and  more than 40  others were injured in a stampede at a major bathing spot on the banks of the Godavari river where a huge crowd of devotees had gathered on the first  of  the auspicious ‘Pushkaram’ festival in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh.

The stampede started after a woman fell down in a crowd pushing to get through a narrow entrance to the banks of the Godavari, said B.Ramakrishna, superintendent of police. While others believe that the place where the stampede occurred is in the vicinity to the railway station and so most devotees preferred this spot for the holy dip. Police estimated the crowd swelled to more than one million on Tuesday. The Andhra Pradesh government was expecting 40 million pilgrims to attend the Godavari Maha Pushkaralu.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who was on the spot to take the holy dip with his family, expressed profound grief at the tragedy and is personally monitoring relief and rescue operations.

A visibly disturbed Chandra Babu Naidu, monitoring the situation from the control room, said, “This is very unfortunate and shocking. I have come here many times to review arrangements to ensure smooth conduct of the event. But some problems cropped up in execution.”

The Chief Minister also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh for the family of the deceased and said, if necessary, he would remain in Rajahmundry for the next 11 days. He is monitoring the treatment of the deceased in various government hospitals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.

“Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede at Rajahmundry,” Modi said in a statement. “My condolences to the families of the deceased and prayers for a speedy recovery of the  injured.”

This is the first Pushkaram being held after the bifurcation of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. The 12-day-long ‘Godavari Pushkaram’ in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana began on Tuesday. Crores of devotees are expected to take part in the mega congregation in both states. The Andhra Puskaras for various reasons seem to be receiving a bigger number of devotees.

This is very significant from the astronomical point of view. The conjunction of ‘Brihaspati’ (Jupiter) entering into ‘Simha rasi’ (zodiac sign of Leo),” said, Parakala Prabhakar, who heads a committee on ‘Pushkaram’, said earlier.

Similar to the ‘Kumbh melas’, celebrated by the banks of the holy rivers of India, ‘Pushkaram’ is held every 12 years in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Taking a dip in Godavari river is the main feature of the festival. The event this year is special as it marks the ‘Maha Pushkaram’, which comes once in every 144 years. Taking a “holy dip” during “pushkaram” people believe ward of their sins.

More than 15,000 police and 171 closed circuit television cameras were already in place to monitor the flow of visitors to the festival, officials said. But somewhere there was a failure accepts the officials.

The incident did not deter pilgrims, who continued to pour into the festival grounds, carrying children and luggage above their heads or perched atop cars stranded for kilometers.

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