Twenty-seven people, mostly women, died in a stampede at one of the 32 bathing ghats on the banks of the Godavari in Rajahmundry early Tuesday morning. Lakhs of people had gathered to take a dip at the ghat on the first day of the 12-day festival of Godavari Pushkaram.
Pilgrims and Opposition parties blamed poor crowd management and inadequate arrangements for the tragedy.
The stampede took place at Kotagummam ghat when several people at the front of the queue fell down as soon as the gates were thrown open.
Most of the victims were from Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts. Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who had taken a dip with his family at a nearby ghat an hour earlier, broke down at Vijaywada Government Hospital, where the injured were admitted.
Minister for Home and Disaster Management N Chinna Rajappa said, “It is considered a sacred ghat and most pilgrims had gathered just outside, leading to overcrowding. Women and elderly persons fell down when the gates were opened and people pushed each other.”
Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede at Rajahmundry. My condolences to the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured
A livid Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu pulled up the police and district administration authorities for not taking enough measures to control the crowds even though he had pointed out to them on Sunday when he had visited the spot to see the arrangements made for the pushkar which occurs once every 144 years.
“All the people are going to only a few ghats which are already overcrowded. I request people to go to other ghats which are nearly empty,’’ Naidu said from the control room at Rajahmundry from where he was directing the rescue and relief operations after the stampede. The tragedy struck an hour after CM Naidu along with his wife and son N Nokesh took a dip in the river and had left the place.
Naidu pulled up the police and district administration for not taking enough measures to control the crowd, despite being told by him to do so. “All the people are going to only a few ghats which are already overcrowded. I request people to go to other ghats nearby. There are 32 ghats in Rajahmundry and over 250 along the Godavari,” he said.
Around 30 lakh people are expected to take the dip at Rajahmundry in the first three days. “People prefer Kotilingalu and Kotagummam ghats. But authorities should have started diverting people as soon as overcrowding started at two or three ghats,” an NDRF official said.
Naidu announced ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each for the kin of those who were killed.
YSR Congress Party chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy demanded that Naidu take moral responsibility for the incident and resign. “Gates were closed when some ministers and VIPs arrived to take a bath and pilgrims were kept waiting. When gates were opened, they were eager to rush in, which resulted in the stampede,” Jagan alleged. YSRCP spokesperson Ambati Rambabu said, “The incident occurred due to gross mismanagement and lack of concern for devotees. Work was not finished though funds were allocated well in advance. Rs 1,650 crore…was misappropriated… Our intention is not to politicise the issue…but we cannot refrain from stating that the stampede is only due to human error and inefficiency of the government.”
Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president N Raghuveera Reddy, too, blamed Naidu and demanded a compensation of Rs 25 lakh for the next of kin. “The CM is responsible. In spite of spending crores, hardly any preventive measures were taken,” Raghuveera said. He claimed that 25,000 people were made to wait for three hours because the CM wanted to take a dip at Saraswati Ghat. “We demand an immediate inquiry, the CM should apologise,” he said.