Six elderly women died at the annual Ganga Sagar Mela — one of West Bengal’s biggest religious fairs — at Kochuberia in South 24 Parganas district on Sunday. According to eyewitnesses, the pilgrims died in a stampede at the Kochuberia jetty where a crowd was waiting to board a boat.
Although state Sunderbans Development Minister Manturam Pakhira denied the stampede, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about it and announced Rs 2 lakh for the next of the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those injured.
“Saddened by the loss of lives caused by a stampede in West Bengal. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased,” the Prime Minister tweeted. “My prayers with those injured in the stampede in West Bengal. May they recover quickly.”
WATCH VIDEO | West Bengal: Six Dead, 10 Injured In Ganga Sagar Mela Stampede
Pakhira, however, told The Indian Express, “There was no stampede. Six pilgrims died today and they were all old women. They suffered heart attack. All of them were rushed to a nearby hospital but they died despite efforts to revive them.”
“They were all old and these were natural deaths,” he said, adding that the incident took place at 6.30 pm.
Government officials were trying to ascertain the identity of the women who died amid reports that three of them were from Uttar Pradesh.
Conflicting reports about the deaths came in through the evening about the deaths.
A local source said, “The incident took place after the bathing in the evening. There were hundreds of people waiting to board the boat on the jetty. They had been waiting for a long time and had become restless so there was a stampede-like incident. Six people fell down in the rush and died.”
Sources in the police denied that a stampede took place. They said the victims “died due to the cold”. Some reports said that two of the pilgrims died on the spot but the minister maintained all six were taken to the hospital where they died.
The West Bengal government is responsible for the arrangements at the Ganga Sagar Mela. According to government estimates, a total of 16 lakh pilgrims took the holy dip on the occasion of Makar Sankranti this year. Pilgrims from West Bengal as well as neighbouring states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha participated in the mela.