RAJAHMUDRY: Huge crowd, poor crowd-control, closing of the ghat for more than two hours after pushkaram began since VIPs were taking holy dip apparently led to the stampede at Rajahmundry which claimed the lives of 27 persons and injured 30 others on Tuesday morning. Of the dead, 25 were women.
Soon after the VVIPs including Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu left the premises after the inauguration, pilgrims jostled with one another to reach the ghat. As crowds swelled, the pilgrims pushed each other resulting in the stampede near the Fort gate of the Kotagummam. Adding to the chaos, the police personnel used mild force which further worsened the situation. Minutes later, several women were found unconscious and a dozen others were injured. They were all rushed to the hospital but to of no avail.
According to eye witness accounts, the stampede took place because the devotees were anxious to have holy dip in the pushkar, which is the main ghat in Rajahmundry though there are quite a number of ghats along the river bank. AS the ghat was closed to ordinary devotees since early hours, a huge crowd collected outside since everyone wants to take the dip at hte pushkar, which is the main ghat in Rajahmundry. The barricading of the pushkar ghat, intended to prevent stampede in fact has led to it since it allowed movement of the crowd in two directions one into the ghat and the other, out of the ghat through only one passage.
"When such a huge crowd collects, the movement should be unidirectional only. If the passage is meant for pilgrims moving in both the directions it is the perfect recipe for disaster. At Pushkar ghat this is what has happened," an official on condition of anonymity, said.
As this time, the pushakaram is called Maha Pushkaram, the crowd that descended on this fist sized town was quite huge, beyond the expectations of the officials. At the time of stampede, the devotees were in laksh at the ghat and they were all packed like sardines in a can. There was no room for them to move their hands either. The crowd kept swelling adding to the pressure on the crowd that is already on the ghat unable to move either forward or backward. Soon a struggle ensued, with those hwo want to exit exerting pressure to out and the crowed intending to come inside began pushing their way. This has resulted in one crowd losing balance which led to a domino effect, creating a stampede.
Though Saraswathi Ghat has been prepared for the VIPs, which is less than one km away from the pushkar ghat, the chief minister and the other ministers took the holy dip at the pushakar only. This apart, the vehicles of the chief minster and the ministers were parked on the road for a long time which drastically reduced the space necessary for easy movement of people, eye witnesses said. The police officials who were supposed to control the crowd were more bothered about providing security to the VIPs rather than ensuring that the crowd stayed calm till the VIPs left. As there were not many police men around, as soon as the ghat was thrown open to the public, many people jumped over the barricades since the movement of the people in the queue line had almost stopped and there was no room anywhere in the ghat to take more number of people.
"The crowd is more than what we have expected. Despite making elaborate arrangements, we could not ensure orderly movement," Health Minister Kamineni Srinivas said at Government Hospital in Rajahmundry, arguing that the government had done its best but the devotees who came for holy dip were more in number than they had expected.
Chandrababu Naidu after reviewing the situation with his deputy Nimmakayala China Rajappa visited the hospital and commiserated with the kin of those who died in the tragedy. He later announced an inquiry and Rs.10 lakh each to the kin of the victims. A visibly shaken Naidu said: "If necessary I will stay in Rajahmundry till puhskaram is over to make sure that nothing goes wrong again." He asked the officials to stagger the crowds so the pilgrims would be distributed evenly to other ghats but the officials are not able to make much progress in implementing his direction since everyone is particulary in taking teh holy dip at pushkar ghat only.
PM Narendra Modi also condoled the deaths caused by the stampede at Pushkaram:
Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede at Rajahmundry. My condolences to the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 14, 2015