Assam additional chief secretary to probe Brahmaputra boat accident
The Assam cabinet has entrusted a senior bureaucrat to probe Wednesday’s boat accident on Brahmaputra river involving two boats that claimed one life while two other passengers are still missing, officials said. The decision was taken at a meeting held in Guwahati on Thursday evening.
“Additional chief secretary Maninder Singh has been asked to complete the inquiry within a month and submit report. The Jorhat district police has been directed to file a criminal case against those responsible for Wednesday’s accident,” health minister Keshab Mahanta said after the cabinet meet.
Three senior officials of inland water transport department, which oversees operation of boats on Assam’s rivers, have already been placed under suspension.
Collision between two passenger boats, a smaller private boat and a government-operated larger vessel, between Nematighat in Jorhat district and Kamalabari in Majuli district had capsized the smaller boat.
While 89 of the boat’s 92 passengers were rescued or managed to reach the Nematighat bank, around 100 metres away from the collision site, on their own, two passengers are yet to be traced.
The accident, which claimed life of 28-year-old college lecturer, Parimita Das, has led to questions on safety standards on boats operated between Jorhat and Majuli—the primary mode of communication between both banks of Brahmaputra as construction of a bridge proposed years ago is yet to start.
On Thursday, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who inspected the accident site, announced the state government would ban private boats using single engines from operating—a similar move was announced in September when a boat accident on Brahmaputra in 2018 in Guwahati had killed three persons.
“From now four ferries of inland water transport department will operate between both banks of the river. Ro-pax (roll on-roll off passenger ferries) ferries would also serve passengers and we are bringing two more passenger vehicles from Guwahati,” Sarma said.
The cabinet entrusted finance minister Ajanta Neog the responsibility to monitor construction of the Jorhat-Majuli connecting bridge.
“Construction of the proposed bridge connecting Nematighat and Majuli would begin from November this year and would be completed within four years,” Sarma said.
In 2016 ahead of the Assam assembly elections, union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari had laid foundation stone of the bridge connecting Nematighat and Kamalabari. In February this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had conducted ‘bhumi pujan’ of the bridge via video conference.
An Assam government minister was ‘gheraoed’ by protesters in Majuli on Thursday when he went to take stock of the accident. Police had to resort to baton-charge to disperse a group of students who were protesting against inadequate safety measures in the capsized boat.
Power minister Bimal Borah had to spend several minutes on the road due to the protest and return back without interacting with local residents.
Thursday’s cabinet meeting also decided to stop operations for a month against Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA), in response to the militant outfit’s announcement of a six-month unilateral ceasefire. During this time, DNLA cadres have been directed not to carry arms or make extortion demands.
On September 7, DNLA, which was formed in April 2019 with the goal of setting up an independent nation for people from the Dimasa tribe through armed struggle, had announced a 6-month ceasefire in response to CM Sarma’s call for cessation of violence.