At least three pilgrims died and more than 60 others were injured in a stampede early on Friday after a portion of a wall near a temple in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district collapsed amid incessant rain, a minister said.
The incident took place in the famous Loknath temple in North 24 Parganas's Kachua where pilgrims had gathered in a massive number on account of the Bengali saint Baba Loknath Brahmachari's birth anniversary.
"Three persons have been killed and 60-70 persons got injured in the Kachua temple early on Friday. A number of injured persons have been shifted to Kolkata's National Medical College and Hospital. Two of them are critical," state Food Minister and Trinamool's North 24 Parganas district President Jyotipriya Mullick told IANS.
He said the accident happened as thousands to pilgrims jostled to enter the through a narrow entrance after the rain had stopped.
"Close to 10,000 pilgrims took shelter under the tarpaulins erected for temporary shops amid massive rain near the temple ground. They rushed towards the temple gate as soon as the rain had stopped. Due to this massive crowd pressure, a wall of an abandoned house beside the temple collapsed, creating a stampede-like situation," he said.
Mullick, accompanied by other senior members of the party's district leadership, went to spot on Friday afternoon.
West Bengal Police's Director-General Virendra also visited the accident spot.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went to the National Medical College and Hospital here where some of the injured have been shifted and announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the family of the deceased.
"The temple at Kachua draws huge crowd on this occasion and the administration remains active. But this time the gathering surpassed all previous records.
"Amidst the rain and storm, some people tried to take shelter in the stalls on the narrow lane. Some fell in the adjacent pond.. In the rush, the stampede-like situation occurred," she said.
Banerjee also said Rs 1 lakh will be given to the pilgrims who sustained critical injuries while the ones with minor injuries will be given Rs 50,000 each.
Trinamool leader Mullick blamed the temple committee for the accident and claimed those who organised the fair on occasion of Loknath birth anniversary, did not follow the the guidelines laid down by the administration.
"When the state government grants permission for a fair or a festival, it should be organised according to the guidelines given by the local administration. The government held six meetings with the temple committee but they did not bother to follow the guidelines," he alleged.
"Police built at least 10 barricades in the area but all of them broke due to massive crowd pressure. The local administration had proposed separate routes for entry and exit from the the temple... if that was followed, the accident could have been avoided," he said adding that strict legal action will be taken against those responsible for the accident.
However, a temple managing committee member said he saw no administrative fault on their part. "We have engaged 5,000 volunteers. Both these volunteers and police were there to control the crowd."
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