Five people were killed and 11 injured in a stampede near a temple at Kachua village in Basirhat of North 24 Parganas district in the early hours of Friday.
Thousands had gathered near Kachua Loknath temple like every year to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Loknath Brahmachari who was born on Janmashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday.
As per police sources, the incident took place around 2.15 am on Friday when some pilgrims visiting the Loknath temple slipped due to slush caused by heavy rain.
Bengal temple stampede: Govt blames rain, temple panel; BJP points to security lapse
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who announced compensation for the families of the deceased and injured, told reporters in Kolkata that there was a large crowd at Kachua Loknath temple this year. “It started raining heavily in the early hours and people tried to take shelter in makeshift bamboo stalls on the approach road to the temple. The bamboo structures collapsed in heavy rain. The place was narrow and in the rush, a few people fell into a pond beside the temple and this created a confusion leading to a stampede-like situation there,” said Banerjee.
“Sixteen people were injured. Police rescued them and took them to a health camp in Kachua and then to a Public Health Centre. Situation was immediately brought under control,” said a senior police officer.
As per police, 11 critically injured persons were brought to Kolkata, of whom five succumbed to their injuries. “Five injured persons are in a hospital in Basirhat,” said the senior officer of Bengal police. DIG and ADG-ranked officers are camping at Kachua.
Four deceased have been identified as Aparna Sarkar of Swarupnagar, Tarun Mondal of Hasnabad village, Poornima Gorai of Rajarhat area and Sonaika Das of Basirhat. An elderly deceased is yet to be identified. While Sarkar and Mondal were declared dead at Calcutta National Medical College (Chittaranjan Hospital), Gorai died at R G Kar hospital. Many injured are also undergoing treatment at SSKM.
Chief Minister Banerjee visited CNMC and SSKM later in the morning and met the injured patients. She also announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of the deceased, Rs 1 lakh to the critically injured and Rs 50,000 to those with minor injuries.
“The mishap at Kachua is unfortunate and tragic… I visited CNMC and SSKM hospitals to meet families of the deceased and injured. Every death is a tragedy. But what we can do is to stand by the families in their moment of grief,” Banerjee later tweeted.
She added, “Medical expenses for injured being borne by Government. My condolences to family members of those who passed away and prayers for the injured to recover soon.”
The eyewitnesses claimed the local administration was not prepared to tackle such a huge crowd.
“Every year on this day, a huge crowd gathers. People start to gather a night before to avoid long queue the next day. It started raining heavily from Thursday night. Every one was trying to take shelter in the makeshift bamboo stalls. Some people were drunk too. People were pushing each other, and suddenly a portion of a wall collapsed and people panicked, which caused the incident,” said an eyewitness who didn’t want to be identified.
The state government has announced a probe into the matter.
“The incident was very unfortunate and an investigation will follow. Around 10,000 people had gathered in such a small place. Also, it was raining,” said state Food Minister Jyotipriya Mallick who is also TMC in-charge of North 24 Parganas district.
Meanwhile, the BJP too demanded an investigation into the incident, claiming loopholes on the part of the police and administration.
“There should be a proper investigation. Definitely there were some loopholes that caused such an unfortunate incident. This could have been avoided,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
Baba Loknath temple at Kachua is one of the biggest religious attractions in Basirhat. The reigning deity, Baba Loknath, is a household name in Bengal. He was born on Janmashtami at Chaurasi Chakla village, a few miles away from Kolkata.