With the mercury dipping below normal, two devotees died while 146 others were taken ill Saturday at the annual Gangasagar fair here which saw around three lakh pilgrims taking a holy dip in the Ganga on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, an official said.
“Jaso Ram, 80, from Gwalior and O.P. Yadav, 66, from Hardoi died apparently due to climate-related ailments. A total of 146 other devotees have been admitted to various hospitals following ailments, mostly related to climate,” Additional District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas Y.R. Rao said.
“The minimum temperature for the day is between 6 to 8 degrees Celsius, which is below normal,” added Rao.
With nearly three lakh devotees already at the island and around 60,000 more waiting on the other side of the bank, the state government has made elaborate arrangements for the peaceful conduct of the fair as also to provide the devotees essential facilities.
About 150 km from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, this island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here at this time of the year to take a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal and pray by offering coconut at the Kapil Muni temple.
The devout believe that a single dip in the sacred water washes off life's sins.
The head priest of the Kapil Muni temple, Gyan Baba, took the holy dip exactly at 5.35 p.m. to signal the commencement of Sankranti, which will continue till 5.35 p.m. Sunday. As per Hindu belief, Sankranti marks the transition of the Sun into Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh also took a dip in the river.
A three-pronged security arrangement on land, water and sky has been arranged, with 14 hovercrafts, several helicopters and over 6,000 security personnel being deployed.
Adequate number of buses, vessels and taxis has been arranged for transportation of the devotees. Pouched drinking water is available free of cost for the devotees. Around 1,000 temporary and one mobile toilet too have been arranged.
With complaints of touts fleecing devotees in return for accommodation arranged by the administration, which is available free of cost, Rao said the matter was being probed and suitable action will be taken against the guilty.
As per orders of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, as many as four state ministers, including Tourism Minister Rachpal Singh, are on the island supervising arrangements.
“Already, eight ministers in the state have visited the Gangasagar Mela site to ensure proper arrangement and security measures. Four of them will stay there with specific duties assigned to them,” Banerjee said earlier.
Banerjee has also abolished a tax which was levied earlier on the devotees who visited the fair.