A year after three barges – P 305, Support Station 03 and Gal Constructor – and tug boat Varaprada that was towing Gal Constructor, went a drift in the Arabian Sea after being caught in Cyclone Tauktae, nine of the 86 bodies recovered from the sea still remain unidentified. For their families, there has been no closure.
One such family from Punjab lost their 23-year-old son Baljinder Singh, who died with 75 others on board the P 305 barge that sunk on May 17, last year. By mistake, Singh’s body was taken away by another family, which also lost their relative in the tragedy, and completed his last rites.
Baljinder, who hailed from a small village near Amritsar, worked as a rigger and foreman on P 305, which sank around 30 nautical miles (around 50 km) from Mumbai’s shore after hitting an oil rig.
Apart from 75 people on board P 305, another 11 people on board tugboat Varaprada died. Both P 305 and Varaprada had sunk and could not be salvaged. A massive rescue operation was undertaken by the Navy and the Coast Guard for the bodies.
As recovering all the bodies took several days, the bodies got decomposed beyond recognition. Also, while 86 people had died, the police and the Navy found over 90 bodies in the sea and across the coast of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Baljinder was one of them.
His father Bagicha Singh and maternal uncle Karamjeet Singh made rounds of the postmortem centre at Mumbai’s JJ hospital but could not claim his body as they awaited a DNA match.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Karamjeet said, “At that time, I was working on another barge but our barge returned safely… At the postmortem centre, I did identify Baljinder’s body but I was not sure due to the extent of decomposition. The first two DNA tests with samples from his father and brother were not a 100 per cent match, so we could not claim his body. Then the police took the DNA sample of his mother.”
In the meantime, the Meghwal family from Pali in Rajasthan claimed Baljinder’s body. They were confident it was their son Amraram.
Around 15 days later, the DNA report of Baljinder’s mother matched with his samples.
Karamjeet then contacted the Meghwal family and was informed that they had already completed the last rites and dispersed the ashes in Haridwar.
An officer from Yellow Gate police station said, “The family from Rajasthan was confident that it was their relative and so, we allowed them to take the body. Later, the DNA sample taken from a member of the family matched another body at the postmortem centre. The family then returned and took the second body for last rites.”
Karamjeet said, “’They took our son’s body by mistake, we didn’t even get his ashes… What can we do now? We have forgiven them and moved on.”
“Our family has got only Rs 7 lakh as compensation till now. We were promised somewhere around Rs 40 lakh. Baljinder’s mother Sarjeet Kaur cannot walk properly since she got the news of her son’s death,” he added.
Kishore Ranawt, a relative of the Meghwal family, refused to comment on the matter.
The Indian Express had reported how the family had identified Baljinder’s body as that of Amraram Meghwal. Amraram’s brother Papuram Meghwal, a welder, too, had died in the accident. His body was identified before him.