Three people drowned and at least 13, including two women, went missing on Wednesday when a wooden jetty in West Bengal’s Hooghly district collapsed during the morning high tide in the Hooghly river, officials said.
The incident took place at Telenipara in Bhadreshwar area of Hooghly, about 35 km north of Kolkata, around 11.15am when around 70 people were waiting for boats that ferry passengers to jetties on the other bank.
Witnesses said the old and poorly-maintained structure gave way when it was hit by the waves. Local people dived into the choppy waters and rescued 18 people, who were later taken to the Chandernagore Government Hospital.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was in Alipurduar in north Bengal, announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for families of the deceased and Rs 25,000 each for the injured.
Police divers were looking for the missing people till late in the afternoon, district officials said.
The chief minister also ordered a probe and asked the Trinamool MLA from Chandernagore, Indranil Sen, who was on tour with her, to rush back.
A local resident, Rakesh Gupta, told the media that despite repeated appeals, the administration did not care to repair the jetty for a long time. Nor did it provide inflated car tubes -- the standard and cheaper alternative to life belts in jetties across India -- in adequate numbers for use during accidents like the one on Wednesday.
Incidentally, the death of Gangasagar pilgrims at jetties on the Sagar Island in the Bay of Bengal hit headlines several times over the years.
On January 16 this year, at least six elderly pilgrims died while returning from the Gangasagar fair. People at the spot claimed that there was a stampede but the state government attributed the deaths to “heart attack”. Too many pilgrims reportedly rushed to board a vessel that was ferrying people to the mainland.