Suman Kumar (22), who runs a hotel, had taken a government boat to cross over to Sabalpur Diara to enjoy kite-flying with his friends. By 1 pm Saturday, the riverine belt was packed with visitors. Four tourism department boats were ferrying people to the spot. Suman says he and his friends saw the crowd surge and the administration struggling to control it. Tourism Secretary Harjot Kaur attended a function and left by 2.30 pm.
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“Once the secretary left, there were announcements that the government boats would not ply after 4 pm. It created panic and suddenly thousands of people were on the banks looking for boats. I could see the last set of government boats plying till 3 pm,” said Suman.
By 5.30 pm, there were about 7,000 people at the Diara. It was at 5.35 pm that people spotted a small boat with a capacity of 25-people. The boatman was convinced to take them to the other side. “Fellow boatmen pushed the overcrowded and rickety boat into the river. We had barely moved 25 m, when some of us saw water entering our boat.”
As the boatman tried turning back, the genset started giving out excessive fumes. About a dozen jumped in river. “Overcrowding and big hole in the boat made it sink in a matter of seconds. My friends and I swam to safety,” said Suman, who saved three people.