At least 20 persons were killed and scores of others injured tonight in a stampede at Allahabad railway station teeming with thousands of pilgrims returning after a holy dip at the 'Maha Kumbh' here.
A senior police officer and highly placed sources said 20 people died in the stampede that occurred at 7 PM when Platforms No 5 and 6 were packed with thousands of passengers.
Eyewitnesses said the stampede at Platform No 6 was triggered near a foot overbridge when hundreds of passengers rushed to board a train whose arrival was being announced in a public address system. Platform No 6 was later sealed by authorities. The bodies of some of the victims shrouded in white cloth were kept at the platform for several hours.
Several eyewitnesses said there was a lathicharge by the police that compounded the panic but Divisional Railway Manager Harinder Rao claimed passengers were not baton charged and that police only attempted to regulate the movement of the crowd at the platforms by asking passengers to stand in line.
Preliminary reports said the stampede broke out when the railing leading to a footbridge collapsed but Railways Minister P K Bansal discounted such a possibility saying this had not happened.
Bansal said overcrowding at the platforms may have led to the stampede. A police officer said an estimated 4,000 people were present at one single point at the site where the stampede occurred.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the loss of lives in the tragedy and instructed Railway ministry to provide all possible assistance.
Singh also directed central government departments to extend all possible help to Uttar Pradesh government in relief operations.
The UP government ordered an inquiry into the stampede and asked the Railways to make proper arrangements to clear rush of devotees and sanctioned an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh to the kin of each of the dead persons.
"The state government has ordered an inquiry into the entire incident. The 'snan' at Kumbh was completed without any problem...the unfortunate incident took place at the railway station..Chief Minister AKhilesh Yadav has ordered an inquiry into the incident", SP spokesman and cabinet minister Rajendra Chowdhury told PTI. Chairman Revenue Board has been asked by the Chief Minister to inquire into the incident and submit his report to him.
Over three crore people had converged for a holy dip on the occasion of 'Mauni Amavasya' today, a day considered the most auspicious day during the 12-yearly congregation. A total of 112 trains routinely passes through Allahabad and an additional 49 special trains were being operated today.