Twenty-four people were killed and 50 injured in a stampede on an overcrowded Rajghat bridge on the border of Varanasi and Chandauli when followers of a religious leader were crossing it to attend a congregation on Saturday afternoon.
The incident took place in Ramnagar police station area of Varanasi when thousands of followers of Jai Gurudev were proceeding towards Domri village in Chandauli for the two-day samagam (camp) which began on Saturday, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljit Chaudhary said.
Of the deceased, 20 were women, police said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, MP from Varanasi, expressed anguish over the incident and asked senior officials in Varanasi to take stock of the situation. He also announced a solatium of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those injured.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has directed the commissioner, Varanasi, to institute a magisterial inquiry into the incident.
He extended an ex gratia of Rs five lakh each to next of kin of those killed and free treatment to the injured, who have been admitted to different hospitals in Varanasi and Chandauli.
The place where the camp is being organised is two kilometres away from the spot where the incident took place, police said.
People in large numbers were brought for the camp by the organisers who had taken the permission only for two to three thousand devotees.
One person died due to suffocation on the bridge because of the surging crowd on the narrow Ganga bridge leading to rumours which resulted in the stampede, Chaudhary said.
Spokesman of Jai Gurudev Sansthan Raj Bahadur said the devotees were proceeding towards the camp, but police started sending them back though they kept on thronging the bridge.
This led to rumours that the bridge ahead had collapsed leading to stampede, he said, alleging there was a serious lapse on the part of the administration.
Principal Secretary (Home) Devashish Panda, Home Secretary S K Raghuvanshi, DGP Javeed Ahmed have rushed to Varanasi to monitor the rescue work. Senior officials from the two districts are camping there.
Chaudhary said that additional force, including 20 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary, has been deployed in the area for the second day of the samagam on Sunday.
With assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh barely a few months away, political parties reacted on expected lines with opposition blaming the Samajwadi Party government of failing to gauge the situation in time, and the ruling party on the other hand saying it was not time to point accusing fingers but to concentrate on relief and rescue.
Deadly stampedes are fairly common during religious festivals, where large crowds gather in small areas with few safety or crowd control measures. In October 2013, a stampede in Madhya Pradesh state in central India killed more than 110 people, mostly women and children.