Patna boat tragedy: Four more bodies recovered, toll rises to 24
Rescuers fished out four more bodies from the Ganga Sunday morning taking the toll in Saturday’s boat capsize in Patna to 24. An unspecified number of people are still missing with eyewitnesses insisting that there were two boats involved in the accident although there is no official confirmation.
A video shot by an eyewitness from the river bank shows two boats capsizing.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), which was pressed into service for rescue operation last evening around 8pm and worked through the night, could retrieve four more bodies by 9:30am on Sunday. The first body was retrieved around 5:30 am.
“We have deployed eight deep divers to search for more bodies,” NDRF commandant Vijay Sinha told HT. “We could anchor one boat which capsized, but are unable to locate the second boat. The media has been agog with reports that two boats were involved in the tragedy,” he added.
Among the bodies recovered on Sunday morning were those of a 40 year old man, a teenager, a youth in his early 20s, and a 4-6 year old child, said Sinha. Besides pressing into service its deep divers, the NDRF was also using ‘maha jaal’ (large net) to fish out bodies.
The commandant said that boats had also been dispatched downstream to Deedarganj, 15-20 kms from the accident site, to check for more bodies.
Relatives of victims were dissatisfied with the arrangement at the Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH), where the bodies were sent for autopsy. Family members complained that dignity eluded them even in death, as there was no place in the hospital to keep the bodies, which were lying on the floor.
Ten survivors who were admitted to the PMCH on Saturday evening, were discharged from the hospital on Sunday.
Principal secretary of Bihar’s disaster management department (DMD), Pratyaya Amrit, who was camping at the site said, “Twenty four bodies have so far been recovered. We have asked the NDRF to search downstream for more bodies and the second possible boat as well. We even asked the survivors who claim that there was only one boat which was overloaded and capsized.”
Meanwhile, politics has begun over the tragedy. Former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi blamed chief minister Nitish Kumar for the tragedy and demanded that an FIR be filed against the CM. He said that arrangements were woefully inadequate for the kite festival, hosted by the culture department on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
Modi also pointed that while arrangements were top class during the recently concluded Prakashotsava — the 350th birth anniversary celebration of Guru Gobind Singh — it was sub-standard for Makar Sankranti here. He even questioned the lack of deployment of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the NDRF personnel as well as the non-availability of ambulances.
Modi also demanded that the district magistrate (DM) and the superintendent of police (SP) should be exempted from VIP duty in Patna.
Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agarwal and senior superintendent of police (SSP) Manu Maharaaj are facing the heat for having arrived late at the accident site. Both were reportedly on ‘VIP duty’ on Saturday when the mishap took place.
RJD leader Lalu Prasad, a partner of the grand alliance government in Bihar, also conceded that the arrangement was not good. He said that the administration should have been more vigilant.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar has ordered an inquiry into the incident. Principal secretary, disaster management department, Pratyaya Amrit, Patna deputy inspector general of police Shalin and Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agarwal have been asked to probe the incident. He also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kin.
People had now begun questioning that some officers, who should be made accused, were on the probe panel.
According to some accounts, two country boats carrying around 60-80 people back from a kite festival on the occasion of Makar Sankranti capsized in the Ganga opposite NIT Ghat on Saturday evening.
The festival site is a kilometre away on a sandbar, popularly known as the diara, near the confluence of the Gandak and the Ganga rivers. The site, where the boat capsized was around 20 metres deep, SDRF sources said.
Around 75,000 people had visited the diara for the festival on Saturday. By the end of the day, most people hurried on to the few boats which were available there.
Onlookers on the Patna side of the ghat said the boats were about to reach the bank when they capsized.