Assam: One dead, 33 missing as boat sinks after hitting ferry steamer in Brahmaputra river
Jorhat/Guwahati, Sep 8: At least one person died and 33 others went missing after a boat carrying over 120 passengers collided with a ferry steamer and sank in the Brahmaputra river near Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district of Assam on Wednesday, officials said.
Three officials of the Inland Water Transport (IWT) Department have been placed under suspension for alleged negligence of duty, while senior ministers admitted that there were lapses and the "guilty" will be punished. The accident occurred when the private boat 'Ma Kamala' was headed to Majuli from Nimati Ghat and ferry 'Tripkai', operated by the state's Inland Water Transport (IWT) Department, was coming from the riverine island.
"The boat capsized and sank," an official of the IWT Department said. Another IWT official said more than 120 passengers were on board the boat but many of them were rescued by lifeguards on 'Tripkai'. A woman died in hospital after she was rescued from the river, Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) Chief Executive Officer Gyanendra Tripathi told PTI.
"We have reports of around 33 people missing. Several teams of NDRF and SDRF are carrying out rescue operations and it will continue whole night," Jorhat Superintendent of Police Ankur Jain said. The deceased was identified as Porimita Das who hails from Guwahati and was working as a faculty in a college in Majuli.
Three more persons are undergoing treatment at the Jorhat Medical College and Hospital, a senior doctor said.
Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Ashok Barman told PTI that 42 people have been rescued so far and no body has been recovered from the water yet. "After sinking, it swept around 1.5 km away and stuck in the bed of the river. The boat is upside down now and we are not able to turn it around. Once we can do that, we will be able to see if anybody is stuck there," he added.
The Army will join the operations on Thursday morning with some advanced machines, Barman said. The NDRF and SDRF have started a rescue and search operation, but they are facing difficulties as it was pitch dark. President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over the boat accident.
"My thoughts go out to the victims, survivors and their families. Rescue and relief efforts are on to save as many lives as possible," Kovid said. "All possible efforts are being made to rescue the passengers. I pray for everyone's safety and well-being," Modi tweeted. Responding to Modi's tweet, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he is personally supervising the rescue operations.
"All the injured are being diligently attended to," he added in a tweet. Union Home Minister Amit Shah called up the chief minister to enquire about the accident and took an update on the rescue operations and conditions of those rescued so far. "Anguished to learn about the tragic boat accident in Assam. Have spoken to CM Shri @himantabiswa, the state administration is doing everything possible to rescue the people. We are continuously monitoring the situation. Also assured full support from the central government," Shah tweeted. In a statement, Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi expressed concern over the accident and said the state government with its men and materials has launched a massive rescue operation. "All possible steps are being taken to rescue the victims and give adequate medical attention to the rescued people," he added.
The chief minister too expressed deep concern over the boat accident and directed the district administrations of Majuli and Jorhat districts to undertake rescue missions expeditiously with the help of NDRF and SDRF. He also ordered Power Minister Bimal Bora to immediately rush to the site.
Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary is also on the way to Nimati Ghat, around 315 km from Guwahati. Sarma asked Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Samir Kumar Sinha to monitor the developments round-the-clock. The chief minister will visit Nimati Ghat on Thursday, a CMO statement said.
Union Minister of Shipping, Ports and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal, who hails from Assam, also expressed deep anguish and concern on the accident in the Brahmaputra. He spoke with Sarma over phone and took stock of the ongoing rescue and relief operations. "Officials of the Ministry have been directed to provide all necessary support to help the victims," a statement from Sonowal's office said.
Meanwhile, three senior officials of the Inland Water Transport Department have been suspended for negligence of duty and Transport Secretary Jadav Saikia was asked to carry out an enquiry about the accident, an official release said.
"Three officials, namely Bikramaditya Choudhury, in-charge Executive Engineer, IWT, Dibrugarh Division; Mukut Gogoi, in-charge Assistant Executive Engineer, IWT, Jorhat Sub-Division and Ratul Tamuli, Junior Engineer, IWT, Jorhat Sub-Division have been placed under suspension," it said After reaching Nimati Ghat on Wednesday night, Bora said, "There must be some lapses. Otherwise, this accident would not have taken place. These all will be looked into in the coming days." Patowary said, "Departmental action will be taken against those found guilty."
The ASDMA has opened helpline numbers to disseminate information related to the accident. These are 1070, 1079 and 1077, a spokesperson of the agency said. Officials of the IWT Department said only one ramp at Nimati Ghat is functioning at present as water level in the Brahmaputra is high due to monsoon rains. IWT Department officials said only one ramp at Nimati Ghat is functioning at present as water level in the Brahmaputra is high due to monsoon rain. "As only one ramp is operational, any outgoing ferry has to give way to the incoming one. 'Ma Kamala' had to leave the ghat to give way to Tripkai. After it had gone just a few metres, the two collided," an official said.
As 'Ma Kamala' is run by private parties, they did not have a system to give tickets to passengers, and hence the exact number of people on the boat at the time of the accident is not known, the official said. Senior leaders of major political parties expressed grief over the accident. BJP Assam unit president Bhabesh Kalita termed the collision of two vessels an "unexplained mystery" and demanded a "high-level" probe into the incident. Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said a party delegation will visit the Nimati Ghat on Thursday to take stock of the situation.
AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal blamed the IWT for the accident and demanded compensation to all the affected persons. Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi said, "I urge the govt of Assam to take emergency measures to save the lives of the people." Assam Jatiya Parishad president Lurinjyoti Gogoi criticised the IWT Department for failing to take steps to ensure safety of the people though such incidents had taken place earlier.
Saddened by the boat accident in Assam. All possible efforts are being made to rescue the passengers. I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 8, 2021