Raigad district Guardian Minister Prakash Mehta’s attempts Thursday to pacify families of those washed away after Tuesday night’s bridge collapse ended with him leaving them a lot more furious.
Mehta spent half-an-hour Thursday afternoon at an empty building close to the bridge on the Savitri river, which now serves as a living space for relatives and a control room for the district administration.
Initially, some 50 men and women stood surrounding Mehta as he patiently took questions. Things became heated when many of the vocal relatives were not satisfied with the minister’s response of ordering a probe into the collapse.
“Where are the rest of the ministers? What are you doing as guardian minister?” demanded one man.
Even as he held up his hands urging calm, the rapid fire continued. An old bespectacled man told Mehta that he was frustrated at the pace of the search operation’s progress. “Why don’t you take help of locals who know the river bends better?” he asked Mehta.
Struggling to now be heard over the volley of queries, Mehta said, “We have four helicopters here. The man on helicopters and boats are trained and very experienced. and the boat team is trained. Locals feel their help should be taken, but the current is very strong,” he replied.
The debate then turned to the lack of arrangements for the swathes of relatives, who have flocked to the building from all over Raigad, Ratnagiri, Mumbai and Chiplun.
“We have been staying in this empty building without proper food or place to sleep. What were you doing about that?”
Mehta then instructed Mahesh Bhat, an official from the Mahad tehsildar office, to book rooms at lodges nearby.
Talk of living conditions, however, ticked off a section of relatives. “I want to know how many bodies have been found and where. What do we do with facilities? We want our bodies. We are grieving, what will we do with food?” a man screamed at Mehta.
Another man, whose father is among those missing, shouted, “Just put more men in the search operations. We will make our own facilities for stay. We don’t want food, fans or a hotel. Mere pitaji toh gaye, unko dhoondo!”
Clearly uncomfortable at being surrounded by angry relatives, Mehta got up to leave, only to be engulfed once more as he walked to his car. He shot final instructions to arrange more ambulances before being driven away.
Watching Mehta leave, some men remarked that they would not allow any more VIP vehicles to enter the compound. “The police has made us park our cars five kilometres away and walk all the way here. But they let ministers drive right up to the bridge,” one of them said.