KOCHI: For Agnel V Varkey, 26, a survivor of the barge P-305 that sank off the Mumbai coast, the mere thought of the nightmarish events of the day sends shivers down his spine. And he was among the few who are lucky to be alive. The tragedy took the lives of 70 employees, including eight Keralites when the barge sank in Cyclone Tauktae on May 17, 2021.
“Many of us have continued working in the same profession and some have moved abroad in search of a better job. The tragedy haunts me every single day. It’s difficult to overcome that horrific experience of floating in the sea for hours,” said Agnel, a native of Kozhikode, who is now working for another firm in Mumbai.
Though Afcons Infra, which promised compensation to the families of the deceased, the survivors and the families of the victims said the company is yet to keep its word. Many of the survivors believe that if the higher officials had taken the cyclone warning seriously and returned to Mumbai, they could have avoided the tragedy. Even after a year of the incident, families of some of the deceased are still fighting to get the promised compensation amount.
“He was just 27. He was supposed to return in June. His job was a relief to our family,” said Dani Edwin, younger brother of Antony Edwin, who was killed in the accident. “My father is a fisherman. Antony's education was financed by taking an education loan. Our financial status improved after he got the job at Afcons. But the accident took him away from us. Though the company said it would pay the compensation for the balance service period of up to 10 years, it has not even paid a part of the total sum that would come to around Rs 35 lakh,” said Dani of Kollam.
Family members of some of the deceased also said the company had cheated them by filing a petition at the Bombay High Court on their behalf regarding compensation. “The company collected details of Sasin Ismail (who was among those killed in the accident) from us for closing the provident fund account. The company filed a case against themselves, making his father the petitioner. We learnt that we were cheated only when we were called to Mumbai to sign the papers.
They themselves calculated the compensation amount, which was only around Rs 5 lakh, and asked us to settle for it. We refused to sign the papers and returned to our hometown,” said Fasal, a family member of Sasin. Sasin’s family has filed a case in the Industrial Tribunal and Employees Compensation Commission. The Afcons spokesperson was not available to comment.
After the accident in 2021, Afcons released an official release stating that it would compensate the families of each of the employees who lost their lives in the tragedy equivalent to the salaries for remaining service period of up to 10 years through a combination of ex-gratia payout and insurance payment. It would range from a minimum of Rs 35 lakh to a maximum of Rs 75 lakh per family, it had said.