PATNA: A festive kite-flying session during Makar Sankranti celebrations ended in tragedy as a boat carrying nearly 80 people capsized in the Ganga in Patna on Saturday evening, killing at least 21 people. More than 30 others were untraceable till late at night even as rescue operations were on.
The mishap took place reportedly due to overcrowding as the state tourism department that had organised the kite-flying festival had failed to make sufficient number of boats available. Thousands of people had gathered on a sandy plain (diyara) in the middle of the Ganga near NIT Ghat to take part in the festival.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar condoled the deaths and ordered a probe into the causes of the mishap. He also announced ex gratia payments of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of each dead person. There were
Personnel from NDRF and SDRF managed to rescue 13 people in a critical condition from the river within minutes after the capsize and sent them to Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH). Sources said eight people, including three children, were being treated at the hospital.
The tragic incident took place at about 5 PM, but it was allegedly 45 minutes later when rescue teams reached the site. Unconfirmed reports said the engine of the boat exploded after a technical snag. Some eyewitnesses, however, claimed that two boats sailing close side by side capsized. By the time NDRF and SDRF teams were deployed, some people in the boat had allegedly been flown away by several kilometers in the river, they added.
The Patna district administration faced allegations of not providing enough boats to bring the people back to the riverbank from the middle of the river after the festival was over. Besides, the boats were old and in bad shape.
“A search operation is on, spread over a 20 km area in both directions of the Ganga around the accident spot. The biting cold and darkness is impeding rescue operations,” said a district administration official. Patna district magistrate Sanjay Agrawal and SSP Manu Maharaj rushed to the spot to oversee rescue operations, but they declined to speak on the likely cause of the mishap and the death toll.
CM Nitish Kumar also ordered the health department principal secretary to ensure proper treatment to all those admitted at PMCH. Senior BJP leader Prem Kumar, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, rushed to the site and blamed the tragedy on “extremely poor arrangements” by the state government.
Meanwhile, Kumar’s JD(U) cancelled its ‘dahi-chuda’ Makar Sankranti feast scheduled for Sunday in view of the tragedy. The Opposition BJP’s leaders were going to attend this feast on an invitation from JD(U) state chief Vashistha Narayan Singh. RJD, which organised a similar feast for all political parties at its chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s residence on Saturday, also cancelled another feast it had planned for Sunday exclusively for minority communities.