|People gather on the bank of the river at Rustampur Ghat as members of a civic defence team with rubber dinghies prepare for the rescue operation. Picture by Surajit Roy|
Malda, June 14: Two men have died and 14 are missing following the capsize of a country boat in the Ganga in Malda.
Around 50 people, two buffalos, several bicycles and bales of hay were on the 20ft X 12ft motorised vessel that has the capacity to take only 30 passengers.
Some of those who floated to the safety did so by clutching the tails of two buffalos, bales of hay and large milk cans. Two bodies were recovered and seven persons are admitted to hospitals.
Kausalya Mondal, a survivor, said there were around 50 people on the boat that was sailing from Rustampur Ghat to the Rustampur char (island), located 2.5km from the bank.
“There was a drizzle and the wind was picking up when we were halfway through the journey. As the boat began rocking, we all screamed in panic. Two buffaloes also became agitated and suddenly, the boat capsized. I managed to grab a bale of hay and floated to the shore, struggling in the strong current. I saw some others holding the tails of the buffaloes that were making for the shore,” said Mondal, 30, who is admitted to the Manikchak health centre.
She said availability of only one boat had led to the overcrowding. “There was only one boat at the ghat when I arrived at 7.30am. More than 50 people were waiting to go to the char. I was going to harvest corn, while some boarded the boat to go to work in corn and jute fields. Others were carrying jerry cans to collect milk from the cows they tend to on the island. We told the boatman that there were too many people. The boatman said he would manage,” said the woman.
Malda police superintendent Kalyan Mukherjee said two bodies had been recovered. “The deceased are Bhagabati Mondal, 35, and Dholgobindo Ghosh, 25. We are trying to determine exactly how many passengers had boarded the boat.”
The district magistrate, G. Kiran Kumar, said according to initial estimates, there were over 50 people on the boat. “We have drawn up a list of names of 14 missing persons so far. Some have swum ashore and we are not sure how many survivors are there. The boat has been recovered but the boatman is missing,” said Kiran Kumar.
The district magistrate said those who were injured in the accident were being treated free of cost. “The government has announced Rs 2 lakh each for the families of the deceased. A disaster management team comprising divers has left Calcutta in the afternoon. Rescue work has been hampered as our civil defence teams with their speedboats have found it difficult to negotiate the fast flowing river and the windy conditions.”
Manirul Islam, a farmer who was bathing in the river when the disaster took place, said the boat was midstream when the wind suddenly picked up. “The winds caused the waters to swell and the two buffaloes became panicky and began to buck and pull at their ropes. I saw people trying to avoid getting hurt and suddenly the boat capsized. I saw about eight persons who clung onto the tails of the buffaloes for dear life and managed to reach the bank. We fear that more than 30 persons are still missing,” said Manirul.
Manikchak is about 35km from Malda.
Manikchak Trinamul Congress MLA and minister for women and child welfare, Sabitri Mitra, also visited the scene of the disaster.
She said that government was doing its best to try and locate the missing persons. “We have deployed small and medium sized country boats and civil defence craft. I have also asked the administration to submit a report on the reasons behind the accident. I have been told that the boat was overloaded. Though we try to make both the boatmen and the passengers not to overcrowd the boats, the warnings are unfortunately not heeded.”
The police said while six persons, three of them women, were admitted to the Manikchak primary health centre, one man was being treated at the Malda Medical College and Hospital.