ALLAHABAD: At least 22 people have died in a stampede as Hindu pilgrims headed home from India's giant Kumbh Mela festival, which drew a record 30 million people to the banks of the river Ganges.
Senior railway official Harindra Rao said 10 people had died at Allahabad station during the stampede on Sunday, with 12 more succumbing to their injuries on the way to hospital, the Press Trust of India news agency reported early on Monday.
Deadly stampede in India
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Deadly stampede in India
RAW VISION: At least 18 Hindu pilgrims are killed in deadly stampede at railway station in northern India.
Mr Rao said more than 20 others who were injured were undergoing treatment at two hospitals in the city, with 15 of them in critical condition.
Local television channel NDTV also reported that 22 people had died.
The incident occurred at the festival's main railway station, where 10 corpses wrapped in white sheets could be seen on a train platform several hours later, an AFP photographer said.
Dozens more were injured in the crush, which marked a tragic end to the most auspicious day of the 55-day festival in northern India.
Local officials said that the railings on a bridge at the station had given way under the pressure of the mass of people, while eyewitnesses told local media that the police had baton-charged the crowd.
Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal denied that this had been the cause, PTI reported, saying that overcrowding on the platforms may have led to the stampede.
Relatives of the victims blamed police for causing the panic which led to the accident, while others said emergency services took hours to reach the scene to help the injured.
The tragedy came at the end of a day which organisers had earlier declared a success after a record number had taken a bath in the holy waters of the Ganges, which is said to cleanse pilgrims of their sins.
"By afternoon over two crore (20 million) people had taken the holy dip and by evening the numbers crossed three crore (30 million)," top local official Devesh Chaturvedi told a press conference.
The Kumbh Mela, which began last month and ends in March, takes place every 12 years in the northern city of Allahabad. Smaller, similar events are held every three years in other locations around India.
Crushes are a constant and frequently deadly risk at religious events in India, where policing and crowd control are often inadequate.