Life is tough row to hoe in 18 villages of the Mand (marshy) areas in Sultanpur Lodhi tehsil along the Beas river.
Man-powered rafts that are still creaking after repair, and kept afloat by prayer, carry people ashore. Villagers in Tarn Taran district, who are on the other side of the river, also use a boat to travel to Sultanpur Lodhi to save time and fuel. Covering 2 km over the Beas shortens the 55-kilometre distance by 35 km.
On Baisakhi, Guru Nanak Dev's birth anniversary, and first new moon of October, pilgrims from Tarn Taran who visit gurdwaras in the historical town of Sultanpur Lodhi and the nearby village of Dalla Sahib prefer to take the river route also because it's economical.
In August, when the Beas flooded the region, the administration deployed eight rescue boats for Sultanpur Lodhi but none for villages on the border of Kapurthala and Tarn Taran districts. The villagers made do with old, repaired boats. All boats in operation on Thursday during the capsizing tragedy in Kapurthala were village-made.
"Many times, we have asked for new boats but the administration is least concerned. Today also, it was a repaired boat that capsized on the river," said Sukhwinder Singh, a leader of the Kisan Sangharsh Committee for farmers's rights.
Munda Pind (victims' village), Gujjarpura, Ghirhke, Karmuwal, Dhunn, Chamba, Kirhian and Kamboh are the points from where boats leave for Sultanpur Lodhi. "We have direct road to Sultanpur Lodhi but it is long," said Paramjit Singh, sarpanch of Munda Pind. "Boat is the popular means of travel. We'll try that, in future, we drive the villagers to Sultanpur Lodhi on tractor-trailers."
Navtej Cheema, Congress legislator from Sultanpur Lodhi, condemned the district administration for poor arrangements. "They should have arranged for more boats looking at the expected rush of pilgrims heading to Sultanpur Lodhi," he said. "Why should it take a tragedy to wake them up?"