The FIR registered in connection with Saturday’s boat tragedy, which claimed 24 lives near Patna, has left many questions unanswered.
On January 14, the sunset took place at 5.20pm. The fact that the boat tragedy was captured on mobile phone shows that there was enough light to record the heartbreaking scene, with people desperately shouting for help and a steamer, visible in the video footage, doing precious little.
However, the FIR, filed on the basis of statement of Anuj Kumar, circle officer of Sonepur in Saran district, clearly mentions that he was informed about the mishap at 6pm. However, the approximate time of the tragedy is not mentioned in it.
“It came to light during the rescue operation that an amusement park had come up close to the site of the kite festival, organised by the department of tourism, that attracted a large crowd. In the evening, an unknown boatman started ferrying a large number of people on his vessel, which sank in the river,” reads the FIR by Anuj Kumar, who was deputed at Sabalpur diara, the sandbar area across Ganga in Saran district, where the kite flying fest was held.
It is not clear in the FIR how an unidentified boatman reached the venue where a government function was being held and why there was no one to stop him despite government’s clear guidelines about licensing of boats.
While the amusement park is yet to take shape, blaming it for the mishap appears to be an attempt by the Patna and Saran district administrations to shift the blame on a handful, hapless individuals.
“How could an amusement park come up in any area without permission? And even if it did, it is more a lapse of the government authorities who could not stop it while preparing for the festival in advance,” said an officer.
He said that an amusement park is already running near the indoor stadium in Kankarbagh locality here, but a lot of paraphernalia had to be met to get permission, along with submission of requisite fee.
What is more baffling is that circle officer Anuj Kumar got information about the incident at 6 pm. “The programme ended around 3pm,” he added, indicating that the officer deputed at the site had left the venue even before the large crowd could safely disperse.
Unfortunately, the FIR, even before completion of any investigation, has put the entire blame for the mishap on the proprietor of the amusement park while remaining silent on why the two steamers, which ferried passengers across the river to the kite festival site, went missing in the evening and why no alternate arrangements had been made to ensure the safe return of people.
The FIR has given clean chit to the organisers of the kite fest - the department of tourism - and the Patna district administration.
Sources said as the dusk started settling, some policemen present there asked people to rush back, adding to the chaos in the absence of any facility by the hosts. An order was also passed earlier that patrols and boats would not be available after 4 pm. Identifying the person who passed such a message is the key to unravelling the negligence and fix responsibility.