Mahanadi mishap: Journalist's death was an entirely avoidable tragedy - Who to blame!

The poser remains unanswered because that eventually proved disastrous for the entire operation which could have been carried out without much ado.  

Published: 25th September 2021 09:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2021 06:54 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: Arindam Das should not have died. Not in Mahanadi river and not as part of the so-called “rescue operation” to drive an elephant out of the swirling waters where it was stuck. Family of Sitaram Murmu, the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) jawan who is missing for over 15 hours, did not deserve the pain and anxiety even as search parties were called back after evening and rains came in.

Elephants are smart swimmers. They do not need human help to cross a river. Other members of the same herd that was spotted in Mahanadi on Friday morning swam their way from Athagarh forests towards Chandaka. The one which got ‘trapped” would eventually have moved out once all cacophony around the operation had died or after sundown. That’s the ideal scenario and any forest officer would say that.

All that the rescue operation required at that point of time was clearing Mundali Bridge – that connects Bhubaneswar to Cuttack – of all the traffic, hundreds of onlookers and mobile phone enthusiasts, and wait patiently. Clear demarcation of an area, imposition of prohibitory orders under Section 144 under CrPC and banishing entry of people from Barang and Athagarh side would have given the young jumbo safe passage. Crowd control was key but that was not thought of by the administration.

To save the jumbo, the option of shutting down the barrage gates could have been used. That would have kept the jumbo afloat helping it to swim. It was not exercised either.Besides, there was simply very little logic behind a team driving a jumbo using an inflated boat with a mega phone from a river. With strong current of water just near the drop-down, using the boat to nudge the jumbo out of its place made little sense. Hundreds of people on that bridge hours on end lending to the chaos only added to the stress of forest and police staff as well as the animal. It was bad call from all sides.

Arindam Das

The big question is who requisitioned the ODRAF team? State Police said, the Forest department placed the requisition. The Forest department sources say they did not. The poser remains unanswered because that eventually proved disastrous for the entire operation which could have been carried out without much ado.  

How did Odisha TV journalist Arindam Das and his cameraman Pravat Sinha get into the ODRAF boat? No one has an answer. A rescue operation, right in the middle of a swollen Mahanadi, required trained and professional men to do the risky work. Of the seven persons who got on to that ill-fated boat, the two journalists were not trained to tackle any such crisis. When the boat rear-ended into the drop-down, all lives were in jeopardy. 

Sources said, three were rescued with use of rope ladders. Three others – including the young and daring Arindam – were brought out after they were carried away to a distance in the water, said officials of Odisha Fire Service who eventually came to save the situation. The firefighters were, by the way, the first to arrive at the bridge early in the morning and had been very patient. 

Was there no one to stop the two TV journalists getting into the boat? Clearly the government agencies did not. Till things went horribly wrong, it was an elephant rescue operation left to the Forest department though it needed greater coordination. 

The tragedy begs an answer for sure - from the departments concerned, ODRAF and other agencies deployed and not the least, the TV channel, which should have drawn the line to the extent that its journalists could go while covering incidents.


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