At least 20 people, including eight children and 12 women, mostly devotees, were killed and several others were injured in a stampede during Chhath festival celebrations in Patna Monday evening, police said.
The incident occurred when a makeshift brigde caved in triggering a stampede during Chhath Puja at Adalatganj ghat on the bank of river Ganges, a police official said.
As the bridge collpased, people ran helter and skelter, leading to the stampede. Fear-stricken people trampled on each other after the bridge collaped at around 1900 hours, Superintendent of Police (SP), City, Jayant Kant said.
"This shocking incident took place after a temporary bridge made of bamboo collapsed due to heavy rush of people, mainly devotees and their family members," a police official said.
Most of those killed and injured in the incident were women and children who were returning home after the 'Arghya' at the ghat to the descending Sun God at Adalatganj ghat he said.
The toll may rise as the condition of some of the injured persons was critical, the SP(City) said.
The bodies of those killed in the stampede have been sent for post mortem at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) at Patna, Kant said, adding the the injured persons have been taken to various hospitals for treatment.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the victims' next of kin, an official spokesman said. Of the amount, Rs 1.5 lakh would be given by the disaster management department and Rs 50,000 from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
The Principal Secretary (Disaster Management) has been asked to launch rescue and relief work on a war footing, he said. Nitish Kumar has directed the Principal Secretary (Home) to probe the incident and told senior officials, including Chief Secretary A K Sinha and Director General of Police Abhayanand to reach the spot and supervise rescue and relief work, the spokesman said.
The Chief Minister asked the officials to ensure that the injured persons get the best medical assistance, he said.
Hundreds of angry people, mostly relatives of the victims, protested against the government and shouted slogans against the chief minister and local administration at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), where all the bodies were brought for post mortem and the injured were admitted for treatment.
Satnarain Singh, a relative of a victim, told IANS that what shocked him and others was that there was no doctor in the emergency ward of the hospital.
"Those seriously injured in the incident were at the mercy of God as doctors were not available in the emergency ward," he said.
Sensing trouble after the incident, a large number of security personnel were deployed at the hospital and at different places in Patna.
District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Singh and Superintendent of Police Jayant Kant were camping at the hospital.
Over four lakh people from Patna and nearby areas gathered at different ghats here for Chhath celebration, officials said.
Opposition Rashtyriya Janata Dal blamed the state government for the incident.
Leader of opposition Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who met the injured at the hospital, criticised the negligence over treatment of the injured.
Celebrated six days after Diwali, Chhath is dedicated to the Sun god. During the festival, married women observe fast for 36 hours, and devotees offer wheat, milk, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts to the Sun god.