AT LEAST one person drowned and 12 others went missing after an overcrowded boat capsized late Saturday in Ganga near Kalna Ghat in Bardhaman district. Following this, a mob set afire several boats in Nadia on the other side of the river.
While the district administration claimed the boat was ferrying around 55 people, who were returning from a fair at Kalna in Bardhaman to Shantipur in Nadia, sources said nearly 200 passengers were aboard it. Among them, around 100 have either been carried away by the current or drowned, eyewitnesses claimed. They added that as the number of passengers on the boat was far beyond the permissible limit, within a few minutes after the boat started its journey, it capsized.
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Late Sunday, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) officials recovered the first body. “The body of a 35-year-old woman passenger was recovered from the riverbed near Shantipur,” Nadia District Magistrate Vijay Bharti said.
Bharti claimed that there were 55 people on the boat and 12 among them are missing. “It was a boat with a canopy… Some people were sitting on the edge, when others tried to get on the boat, it turned upside down, trapping some people. While many swam back to safety, I have information that 12 of them are missing,” he said.
Arindam Bhattacharya, Congress-Left candidate from Shantipur Assembly segment, however, claimed: “From my constituency, I know at least 160 people have gone missing.” He also alleged that he was beaten up by Trinamool Congress supporters for questioning the number of those who are missing.
Meanwhile, while rescue operations could not be carried out after the incident due to rain, on Sunday morning too, it was delayed owing to the late arrival of rescue officials. This resulted in the crowd, who had gathered at Nrisinghapur Ghat in Shantipur, setting ablaze six boats. A waiting room for passengers was also set on fire.
Two police officers — Assistant Sub-Inspector Mohammed Ilaish and a constable — were injured as the mob pelted them with stones. To tackle the situation, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on the agitating mob. “The situation is normal now… It’s under control. Nobody sustained injuries in police action,” Nadia SP Sheesh Ram Jhajharia said.
Bardhaman District Magistrate Saumitra Mohan said several teams, including rescuers from Disaster Management Group, civil defence and private divers as well as two teams of National Disaster Response Force have been pressed into service to find the missing.
“Over 150 rescue workers are employed in the search operation. Civic volunteers and private divers are also working,” he said.
Asked about the alleged delay in rescue operations, Mohan said the water current, depth of the river and the muddy water was making the job of the divers “very difficult”.
“The river is very deep even at the jetty where the mishap happened. It’s around 70 feet deep there itself. It deepens further as you go inside. The water is muddy rendering the visibility poor and the river current is made stronger by last night’s rain and thundershowers,” he claimed.
He added that “overloading” was one of the suspected causes leading to the mishap. “According to our initial reports, it appeared that the carrying capacity of the boat was around 45. But around 15 to 20 more people jumped onto the boat breaking the police cordon at the ghat… The boat broke down the moment it started sailing and then capsized,” Mohan said.
Kalna Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) M Raghubangshi, who was on the boat with a couple of policemen to supervise the ferrying of people, fell into the water as the boat capsized. “He and the policemen managed to swim to safety. They helped others on the boat to swim back to a safe place,” the DM said.
Though nobody was arrested in connection with the incident, a case has been lodged against the authorities for the ferry services on the ground of negligence, he added.
Babai Ghosh, a resident of Shantipur said his elder sister Suparna Sarkar and brother-in-law Sandip Sarkar were in the boat that capsized. “Suparna had called mother around 11 pm and said she had boarded the boat. Now, her phone is switched off,” he said.
Meanwhile, six missing diaries have been filed at Kalna police station. Locals also held a demonstration in front of the office of Nadia ASP and Ranaghat SDPO. WITH PTI