At least 19 people died yesterday after a boat carrying some 40 revellers returning from a kite festival capsised in the Ganges river in Bihar, police said.
“We can confirm that 19 people have died. Rescue operations are on to find those still missing,” Manu Maharaj, senior police superintendent, said.
The bodies of 17 passengers have been recovered, while eight people are being treated at the Patna Medical College and Hospital, district officials said.
According to eyewitnesses, the overcrowded boat was returning from the kite flying festival, organised as part of Makar Sankranti by Bihar’s Tourism Department when it sank around 6pm.
Rescue operations were hampered since it was already dark by then.
Meanwhile over 1.5mn people from across India and abroad braved the icy cold water and chilly winds to take a holy dip in the river at the annual Gangasagar Fair on Sagar Island in West Bengal on Makar Sankranti.
“Almost 16 lakh people bathed at Sagar since morning, far surpassing the attendance last year. Lakhs took the holy dip on Friday evening as well. The fair has been a huge success,” Panchayat and Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee said.
The island, about 150km from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, is considered auspicious by Hindus, who gather there at this time of the year to take a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal.
The Ganga Sagar Mela is rated as the second largest assembly of people after the quadrennial Kumbha Mela (fair).
“The attendance was relatively higher this year as a lot of fairs that are otherwise arranged at this time of the year could not be properly organised amid the cash crisis.
“The administration has taken necessary measures to tackle the large crowd,” Mukherjee said.
Makar Sankranti was also celebrated by people in the Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
The day was also celebrated as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, and Magh Bihu in Assam.
A man stands on a water tanker to look for his family as people arrive to take a holy bath and perform rituals on Gangasagar Island, around 150km south of Kolkata yesterday.