Guwahati(IANS): The toll in Monday’s Assam ferry tragedy, possibly India’s worst such accident, is estimated to be around 270, with the search and rescue parties failing to recover even a single missing person Tuesday, an official said.
Only 80 people could be rescued during the search and rescue operations, on since the accident in Dhubri district Monday evening, and most of the other estimated 350 passengers remained missing till Tuesday evening, the official said.
“Some bodies were fished out till late Monday night by rescuers but it is difficult to estimate the toll as some relatives of the deceased have taken the bodies home for burial,” said a district administration official, adding that only 17 bodies were sent for post-mortem.
“It’s almost 24 hours after the tragedy now and there is hardly any chance that anyone is alive. Some of the survivors also told us that most of the passengers of the ferry were women and children,” said the official.
Another official said: “We are yet to ascertain the exact number of passengers on the ferry. As per our information, about 240 passengers bought tickets but there were passengers without tickets too.”
Abdul Aziz, a survivor, said there were over 300 passengers on the ferry.
A Border Security Force (BSF) official, overseeing the rescue operations, said it was possible that the bodies may have floated downstream.
“We have been continuing with the rescue operation since last evening. However, there is a strong undercurrent in the river and the bodies might have been washed away,” said S. Kumar.
“We are going to continue the rescue and search operation till evening and then we would have to call it off,” he said.
BSF water wing’s deputy commandant Rajesh Bhandoria told IANS that the search was on, though so far unsuccessful. “Till 5 p.m. Tuesday, we were not able to find even a single body,” he said.
All border outposts (BOPs) of BSF’s 22 and 162 Battalions along the Brahmaputra have been alerted to look for survivors and search for dead bodies.
Apart from this, BSF has also established contact with the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) at Dhaka and also with its sector commander at Rangpur and battalion commander at Kurigram.
“We have also requested to sensitize their riverine BOPs for carrying out search for survivors and look for the dead bodies and make immediate arrangements to hand over the same to BSF,” said a BSF spokesperson in Delhi.
Apart from the 20 deep water divers of the BSF, the district administration had also used the services of helicopters to step up the search and rescue operation from Tuesday morning.
Two senior cabinet ministers, Chandan Brahma and Nazrul Islam, rushed to the Fakirganj area on Tuesday morning to take stock of the situation.
“We have already ordered an inquiry into the whole incident to find out as to what is the exact cause of the tragedy — whether it is the overloading of passengers or the weather,” said Brahma.
He also assured the local people of improving the communication infrastructure to Fakirganj.
“We have already arranged for technically sophisticated motor launches to ply between Dhubri and Fakirganj and the new motor launches will arrive by next week,” he said and added that the government had already sanctioned a bridge over the Brahmaputra river to connect Jaleswar and Dhubri. “The construction of the bridge will start soon,” he added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, expressed his shock over the tragedy and announced compensation of Rs.2 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased.
Apart from that, the Assam government has also an announced ex-gratia payment of Rs.1.5 lakh each to the next of kin of the victims. The kin will also get another amount of Rs.50,000 each from the Mukhya Mantrir Jibanjyoti Bima Achoni, a life insurance scheme of the state government that covers anyone in the age group of 3-80 years.
The state government had also announced that all the seriously injured passengers of the ferry will be given Rs.50,000 each besides making arrangements for free treatment to all the victims.
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badaruddin Ajmal has also announced that the party will give financial assistance of Rs.2 crore to all the victims of the tragedy. All the 18 legislators of the AIUDF has also agreed to contribute their one month’s salary for the overall help of the victims of the tragedy.