- Stampede broke out when a large crowd was trying to cross bridge
- Devotees of Jai Gurudev sect were heading to an ashram
- 24 killed, police say stampede caused by overcrowding and rumours
Followers of Jai Gurudev, the leader of a sect, were moving in a procession towards his ashram and far too many were near the iron Rajghat bridge, say officials. Instead of 4,000 people expected by the administration, around 50,000 allegedly showed up.
A man died of suffocation because of the surging crowds, which led to panic. Rumours that the bridge had collapsed fueled more chaos, said police chief Javeed Ahmed.
"We are investigating crowd management and will take action against those responsible," Mr Ahmed said.
The sect claims that it had warned the police more people would turn up.
Jai Gurudev, who died in 2012, is among several self-styled "godmen" who enjoy cult-like following among thousands of followers. The sect made headlines earlier this year when 24 people including two police officers were killed in violence at a park where devotees had been squatting for two years.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents Varanasi in parliament, said he had asked officials to ensure all possible help. He is in Goa for a meeting of BRICS nations.
Deeply saddened by the loss of lives in the stampede in Varanasi. Condolences to the bereaved families. Prayers with those injured.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 15, 2016
TV visuals showed a pile of clothing and slippers as policemen and rescuers worked. Traffic crawled for hours near the area because of a massive jam at the Rajghat bridge, one of the main connections in the city.
I have spoken to officials & asked them to ensure all possible help to those affected due to the stampede in Varanasi.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 15, 2016
PM Modi has announced Rs 2 lakh and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav Rs 5 lakh for the families of the dead.