A clash broke out between a mob and policemen after the incident of boat capsize was reported in which a woman died and 12 people were missing during a religious programme at Kalna in Burdwan on Saturday evening, police said. The mob also set afire several boats in Nadia district on the other side of the river with the police using rubber bullets to control the situation.
DM Vijay Bharti had informed that as many as 12 people, including seven from Nadia and five from Kalna, were mission as of now.
Police said the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had fished out a body of a 30-year-old woman from the river. According to information, few policemen were injured in the incident. The boat, which was carrying around 50 people, capsized while ferrying passengers across the Hooghly river from Kalna to Shantipur in Nadia.
A senior police officer said thousands of people had visited a fair organised on the eve of a religious programme near Bhaba Pagla temple at Kalna. Several people came from Shantipur, which is situated on the opposite bank of the river. The boat had capsized at around 11.30 pm on Saturday.
While speaking about the situation which led to the incident, a senior police officer said the transit point on Kalna side got overcrowded as the boatmen were not ready to ferry passengers. The reason being a mob at the transit point in Shantipur side were pelting stones at the boatmen and not allowing them to rest their boats on the river bank to let the passengers get down. It seems that the mob was pelting stones as the boatmen were flouting all norms to ferry hundreds of passengers at a time risking everyone’s life. It was also delaying the service.
As a result, hundreds of people left waiting at Kalna for a boat to go across the river. Everyone was in hurry to return home after visiting the fair and as a result it was building up pressure on the local administration.
An SDPO from Burdwan along with his team of officers was present on the spot. In a bid to convince the boatmen to resume the ferry service, a senior police officer had got into the boat.
He convinced the boatmen and urged the passengers to get into the boat one by one. But instead of following his direction, everyone had started pushing each other and as a result around 40 to 50 people got into the boat. The SDPO, who was present on the boat, realised that if the boat does not move more people will get into it. So he directed the boatmen to leave the place immediately.
Finding that the boat was moving out from the transit point, some youth jumped on it causing a massive damaged to a portion of the vessel. The boat was already overloaded and the boatmen had failed to bring the vessels back to the transit point. The boat, which was around 100 metres away from Kalna Ghat, had started sinking and almost everyone on board including the SDPO fell into the river.
The police officer had somehow managed to swim back and he also managed to rescue some of the passengers. Similarly, the boatmen had also saved many people from drowning. Till Sunday afternoon, five missing complaint were lodged at Burdwan police station.
Tension prevailed on Sunday morning as a mob started pelting stones at the police at Nirsinghapur Ghat, which is the transit point in Shantipur side, injuring a sub-inspector of Shantipur police station Md Ilias and a constable.
Senior police officers including Bijoy Prasad, Additional Superintendent of Police and Indrajit Basu SDPO Ranaghat rushed to the spot. Local people had started staging demonstration protesting against the delay in starting the rescue operation to find out the missing people.
The mob had again started pelting stones when additional policemen were deployed. They set a boat and trawler on fire. The police had failed to disperse the mob despite chasing them. RAF was deployed and police had to fire tear gas shells and rubber bullet to disperse the mob.
When the police were taking steps to disperse the mob, around 15 divers were deployed to find out the missing people. The divers had found the ill-fated boat within half-an-hour of initiating the search operation this morning. But none of the missing people was found till the report last came in. Officers of the Disaster Management Group are also working to find them out.
A senior police officer said that a trawler had attempted to ferry around 500 passengers in a trawler this morning. But the trawler had to return as the mob from Nirsinghapur Ghat at Shantipur had pelted stones even this morning as well.
Soumtra Mohan, DM, Burdwan and SP Gourav Sharma were at the transit point in Kalna since early this morning. Similarly senior police and administrative officers from Nadia were present on the opposite bank of the river.
‘Boatmen flout norms to make easy money’
The attempt of few boatmen to make fast money by flouting the norms set by the state government to ferry passengers in motorised boats across a river had led to the incident of boat capsize at Kalna in Burdwan, preliminary investigation revealed.
It may be mentioned that the state government had brought in several changes in the norms that to be followed by the boatmen specially of the motorised boats for the safety of passengers following an incident of boat capsize a few years ago in South 24-Parganas.
As per the directions of the state government, carrying capacity (that is the number of people) of each and every boat has to be displayed properly on the vessel, there should be sufficient number of life jackets in a boat, timely inspection by competent authority and most importantly ticketing system to get a count on the number of passengers being ferried in one trip.
The boatmen were directed to set up ticket counters at the transit points and the person in the ticket counter will allow passengers to get on to a boat as per its capacity. The boats those operate are of different sizes. Thus to make people aware of its carrying capacity it has be well displayed on the body of the vessel.
It may be mentioned that there are several places where motorised boats are still a lifeline to go across the Hooghly river. Hundreds of people have to risk their lives every day to cross the river considering it to be the shortest and cheapest route to reach their destinations.
The motorised boats are quite common in districts including Howrah, Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas. In Howrah, there are two transit points from where motorised boats operate to ferry people to Kolkata.
According to a senior state government official, the mode of transport has become so crucial that it is not quite possible to restrict its operation. Thus a set of norms were formed to make the journey safe for people. The local civic bodies and police were also made aware of the norms that were brought in place a few years ago.
The local administration with the help of the police had made it mandatory for all boatmen to follow the same.
In some cases a section of boatmen flout the norms to take more passengers as it helps them to make some easy money. Police had taken strict action whenever they found any boatmen flouting the norms, said the official adding: “The Saturday’s incident at Kalna also took place for the sheer callousness and greed of some of the boatmen. As far as I came to know that the boatmen had to stop ferrying passengers as a mob pelted stones on them from Shantipur side. Taking up law in own hands is a crime. But it could be so that the mob had got infuriated finding the boatmen ferrying hundreds of people at a time.”
Police were also in a helpless situation as hundreds of people had attempted to get on a single vessel when the ferry services was about to resume after a long time.