36 killed in stampede at Allahabad railway station

Allahabad, Feb 11 (IANS) At least 36 people were killed and over a dozen injured in an stampede following the collapse of an overbridge railing at the Allahabad railway station Sunday owing to the Kumbh Mela rush, an official said Monday.

"Thirty six people have been killed and more than a dozen people injured at the Allahabad station stampede. We have identified 20 of those killed, including 14 women and six men. Sixteen others are yet to be identified," a state government official said.

"We have set up a helpline at the Delhi railway station," Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal had told reporters in Delhi late Sunday.

Though the minister did not specify the cause of the accident, he denied the claim of state government officials and said the railing of the over bridge did not break.

"As per my information, the railing did not break...we are trying to verify this," Bansal said.

A cane charge-prompted stampede preceded the tragedy at 7.15 p.m. on platform numbers 5 and 6 of the Allahabad railway station, which hosted over three crore (30 million) devotees at the Kumbh Mela's biggest bathing day of 'Mauni Amavasya', district officials said.

The tragedy occurred on the foot overbridge between platforms 5 and 6 when the railing collapsed due to overcrowding. Several people fell on the tracks and down the stairs, the officials said.

After the deaths, the Uttar Pradesh government requested the railways to shift some trains from the busy Allahabad station to the Prayag station on the outskirts of the city, 200 km from state capital Lucknow, an official said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the death of pilgrims in the stampede and directed central ministries, including the railways, to extend all possible help to the state government in relief operations.

Some witnesses said people were cane-charged by police just before the incident as the crowd was becoming unruly and plying of trains had come to a halt.

As soon as the bridge's railing broke, there was a stampede, another witness told IANS.

Abhijeet Das, a passenger on platform number 6, accused the police of cane-charge and said that it led to the stampede. "Medical help did not arrive for over two hours," he said.

Police cordoned off the area and closed entry into the station. Trains coming to the Sangam city were halted at the Prayag railway station.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, condoling the loss of life, ordered a probe.

"A committee, headed by the chairman of the revenue board, has been formed by the chief minister to look into the reasons leading to the tragedy," an official told IANS.

The state government also asked the railway ministry to ply more special trains so that the crowd in Allahabad could ease.

While north central railways (NCR) ran 17 special trains for the 'Mauni Amavasya', arrangements turned out to be insufficient.

"We made elaborate arrangements but there has been an unfortunate incident. Our first priority is to attend to the injured," said Sandeep Mathur, chief public relations officer of NCR.

The trains were meant to augment the crowds returning after a holy dip at the Kumbh Mela and take passengers to New Delhi, Indore, Kanpur, Varanasi, Ahmedabad and other places, a railway official said.

He said most people at the Allahabad railway station were headed to Fatehpur, Etawah, Tundla, Shikohabad, Firozabad, Aligarh, Khurja and Manikpur stations and hence the crowd became unmanageable and swelled to unexpected numbers.

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