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Barge tragedy: MVA wants Union min to go, BJP calls for action against pvt firm

The ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were locked in a war of words on Saturday over the P305 barge tragedy off Mumbai coast during Cyclone Tauktae, which has so far claimed 66 lives
PUBLISHED ON MAY 23, 2021 01:24 AM IST

The ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were locked in a war of words on Saturday over the P305 barge tragedy off Mumbai coast during Cyclone Tauktae, which has so far claimed 66 lives.

MVA has held the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and the Union petroleum ministry responsible for the tragedy, and the three ruling partners – Congress, Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – have demanded petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s resignation.

Meanwhile, BJP has alleged that the Maharashtra government is “shielding” the contractor firm against whom a criminal case should be registered. BJP leader Ashish Shelar has demanded that Afcons Infrastructure, whose chartered barge P305 sank in the Arabian Sea, be charged with culpable homicide and a criminal case be registered against its officials. “Leaders from MVA government are shielding Afcons Infrastructure and its owners Shapoorji Pallonji and its directors. A case has been registered against the captain who is still missing. How can the captain alone be held guilty for the tragedy? The contractor company is solely responsible for the incident , despite which it’s being shielded by the people in the government,” he said.

Shelar has also raised questions over the offshore operation by the contractors even after the cyclone warnings were issued. “Afcons was expected to begin the winding up process by May 12, but sought an extension till June 15. It did not bring its employees back despite the cyclone warning on May 11. Other companies, including ONGC, called their personnel back, but Afcons continued the operations. I have met Mumbai Police commissioner Hemant Nagrale and demanded a thorough inquiry into it by registering a case against the contractor firm,” he said.

An Afcons spokesperson said that the company has no comment to offer on the statements by political leaders. In its statement issued on Friday, the company had said, “It’s our moral duty to support not only the families of the deceased persons involved in direct rolls, but also the families of all the deceased who were employed with sub-contractors. The calamity arising from the fury of Cyclone Tauktae was unprecedented, and we share the anguish of the affected families. We will ensure that the families of the deceased receive total compensation.”

Meanwhile Shiv Sena, which heads MVA, has demanded a criminal action against ONGC, which comes under the Centre. In an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana on Saturday, the party said that the deaths were “culpable homicide” as ONGC did not take the cyclone warnings seriously. “The cyclone warning was given well in advance, but ONGC ignored it and didn’t recall the personnel working on the barge. Forty-nine bodies have been found and 26 are still missing [the toll later surged to 66 and nine are said to be missing]. Had the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard not launched the search and rescue operations, around 700 people would have drowned. They were conducting oil rigging for ONGC, and hence, it was the government-owned firm’s duty to protect their lives,” it stated.

Sena’s Member of Parliament (MP) and Saamana’s executive editor Sanjay Raut, said, “A culpable homicide case must be filed against the CMD (chairman and managing director) and directors of ONGC for whom the personnel of the private contractor were working. Why did ONGC not take any action to bring them to the shore? Their negligence has led to the deaths of 60 people,” he said.

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