27 killed in stampede at start of India festival

GODAVARI (India) • A stampede on the banks of a holy river in southern India has killed at least 27 pilgrims, signalling a tragic beginning to a religious festival season.

The stampede occurred around 8am yesterday at Rajahmundry, on the border of the twin states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, about two hours after the start of the Maha Pushkaralu festival in which thousands of people bathe in the waters of the Godavari River.

Police said another 29 were injured, at least two seriously. While the identities of all victims had yet to be established, a senior police officer said the dead included at least four women and a 15-year-old girl.

"The incident happened as the first set of worshippers were coming out of the river after taking a dip and then got in the way of others who wanted to be in the water at an auspicious time," deputy police superintendent A. Srinivasan Rao said. Routes to the river have now been changed to avoid steep slopes and overcrowding.

In a statement posted on his official Twitter account, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede at Rajahmundry" and offered condolences to the families of victims, as well as prayers for survivors.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said an ex-gratia compensation payment of one million rupees (S$21,400) had already been approved for victims of the stampede and the state government would bear the medical costs of those injured.

The start of the Maha Pushkaralu festival coincides with the much larger Kumbh Mela festival at Nashik in the western state of Maharashtra. Organisers expect up to 10 million pilgrims to attend the main Kumbh Mela bathing dates, which fall on Aug 29, Sept 13 and Sept 18.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline '27 killed in stampede at start of India festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe