Kochuberia (WB): At least six pilgrims died while returning from Ganga Sagar fair here today, which the officials initially said was a stampede but the state government later claimed it was not.
District officials initially said two pilgrims died on the spot and three, including the woman in the hospital.
The stampede occurred at around 6 pm when there was a huge rush of pilgrims to board vessels to reach Kolkata, the officials said, adding all of them were middle aged and are yet to be identified.
A search has been launched by naval divers to find out anybody who might have fallen into Buriganga river during the stampede, the officials said.
Later however, Sundarbans Development Minister Manturam Pakhira told PTI that six elderly women died after falling ill during a rush to board a vessel at a jetty in South 24 Parganas district while returning from the Ganga Sagar fair.
The incident occurred when there was a mad rush of pilgrims to board vessels at jetty number 5 to reach Kolkata, he said.
A few people fell unconscious while several took ill during the incident, he said, adding they were taken to a nearby temporary healthcare centre where six people, all elderly women, died.
“These women were very old. Most of them were above 75 years of age and were very weak. They died natural death. Doctors said that they died of heart attack,” Pakhira said.
“The rush was because there would be no vessel for about eight hours due to low tide,” he said.
State ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Arup Biswas also denied that it was a stampede.
After the initial reports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had even tweeted: “Saddened by the loss of lives caused by a stampede in West Bengal. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased.”
The PMO also tweeted: “PM approved ex-gratia from PMNRF, of Rs 2 lakh for next of kin of those deceased & Rs. 50,000 for those injured in the stampede in WB.”
South 24 Parganas’ District Magistrate PB Salim said the state government would provide a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each of the deceased.
He also denied that any stampede had taken place in Kachuberia as reported earlier.
A total 16 lakh pilgrims took the holy dip in two days on the occasion of Makar Sankranti at Ganga Sagar.
Salim said there were eight deaths at Ganga Sagar mela last year mainly because of cold weather condition which rose to nine this year – from January 12 till today.