Kumbh buck flies back and forth

Lucknow, Feb. 11: An eight-year-old girl, whose parents had reluctantly agreed to bring her along as she was "too restless" to be left at home, died this morning as yesterday's station stampede claimed its youngest and thirty-sixth victim.

Muskan, who came from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, got separated from her parents in the rush at Allahabad railway station and was trampled as thousands of Maha Kumbh pilgrims ran from an apparently collapsed footbridge.

"She was too restless to be left alone at home. We didn't want to bring her here," said father Bedi Lal, 32.

Gobindo Roy, from Bengal's North 24-Parganas, was identified today as one of the two victims of the mini-stampede inside the Kumbh Mela grounds that took place less than an hour before the station crush.

The 62-year-old's son, Tapan, identified his father's body in a hospital this morning, said Abhirup Sharma, DIG, railways, Allahabad.

As the station toll rose to 36, an Uttar Pradesh minister resigned as chairperson of the Kumbh Mela organising committee on "moral grounds". The resignation of urban development minister Mohammad Azam Khan came as the state government and the railways blamed each other for the station tragedy.

In a statement, Union railway minister Pawan Bansal said he wanted to "clarify" that the stampede occurred because people came in large numbers. "We had made arrangements before (the) start of the Kumbh. We have come to know that people turned up in large numbers resulting in (the) stampede."

The Akhilesh Yadav government had accused the railways of not making adequate preparation despite several intimations. Railway authorities claimed the sudden arrival of around 2 lakh people at the station triggered the chaos.

The pilgrims were rushing to catch a train home at 6.30pm after a dip at the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, 7km from the station. An estimated 2 crore pilgrims ' some said 4.5 crore ' took the dip on Mauni Amavasya, considered auspicious to wash away their sins.

Uttar Pradesh chief secretary Javed Usmani said an inquiry committee had been set up to probe the cause of the stampede. It has been asked to submit its report in a month, a PTI report said.

"We are hopeful that the inquiry committee is competent enough and as of now we feel no need for a judicial inquiry," Usmani said.

Official sources said 20 of the 36 victims had been identified and most were from rural areas in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Muskan's parents found her bruised and gasping but no medical help was available for over an hour as she lay on the platform till 8pm. A voluntary organisation later shifted her to hospital, where she died this morning. "Help came too late," said Rajnarayan Srivastava, a health worker.

Seventy-year-old Urmila Devi, from Buxar, Bihar, was the oldest victim of the station crush. "As we were running to get to the flyover, she fell and thousands walked over her," said her son Debakar, 45. "She did not wake up."


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