Kolkata: At least three persons were killed and over 25 injured in a stampede near a temple in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district on Friday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.
The mishap occured at around 2.15 AM near Loknath Dham (temple) at Kachua, around 50 km from the city.
A senior police officer told PTI that three persons have succumbed to injuries and another three are in a very critical condition and 10 critically injured have been brought to Kolkata for treatment.
The three dead have been identified as Aparna Sarkar, Tarun Mondal and Poornima Gorai, another senior officer of West Bengal Police said.
Lakhs of devotees gather at the temple every year on this day to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Lokenath Brahmachari, an 18th century Bengali saint who has followers in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
Banerjee, who rushed to National Medical College and Hospital in the city where some of the injured were admitted, told reporters that there was a large crowd at Kachua Loknath temple this year and the devotees tried to take shelter in the makeshift bamboo stalls lining the narrow approach to it when it rained heavily in the early hours. These bamboo structures collapsed after the heavy rain.
"In the rush to escape from the place, a few people fell into the pond near the stalls. This created confusion leading to a stampede-like situation there," she said.
Senior ministers have been sent to Barasat Hospital, R G Kar Medical College and a hospital at Basirhat, where the injured are being treated, she said.
"The mishap at Kachua is unfortunate and tragic. Occurred after heavy rain. 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 stand by the families in their moment of grief," Banerjee tweeted.
She expressed her displeasure over the existence of the makeshift bamboo and polythene stalls in the the narrow lane leading to the temple.
"They (shopowners) set up stalls using bamboos and polythenes. You will not be able to drive them away because if you do, it will lead to problems," she said.
The senior police officer said that some pilgrims visiting the temple in Basirhat police district had slipped due to the slush caused by the heavy rains.
The police rescued them and took them to a health camp at Kachua and then to a primary health centre, he said.
"The situation was immediately brought under control," he said.
Banerjee announced compensation of Rs five lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the mishap, Rs one lakh to the critically injured and Rs 50,000 for those with minor injuries.
State Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriya Mallick held a meeting with the temple authorities later in the day and a decision was taken to erect two entry and exit points to the shrine.
On the stalls, he said these were built by locals.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh criticised the state government for not setting up proper infrastructure to deal with the rush of pilgrims and demanded immediate probe into the mishap.
"There is no point in (the CM's) running from one hospital to another now ... Why should the CM be going to hospitals? ... The state government should have put proper arrangements in place keeping in mind the huge turnout on this occasion. There must be an investigation into the mishap," Ghosh said.
The state government had provided adequate security cover for the Haj pilgrims but when it came to providing security and services for Hindu pilgrims it turns indifferent. "I think there was some laxity in the arrangements which led to the loss of lives," he told newsmen.
Alleging that the accident occured due to indifference and casual approach of the state government, he said had the state government provided enough security cover the accident could have been averted.
"We have no problems in Haj pilgrims getting security cover. But it is absurd that only Haj pilgrims get it and other amenities and the Hindu pilgrims are deprived of it," he said.