Bhopal boat mishap claims 12 lives, leaders fight over aid

Twelve people drowned as two boats, interlinked with ropes, capsized during the Ganapati idol immersion at the Khatlapura Ghat of the lower lake, here at 4.30 a.m. Of the 23 people on-board, seven swam to safety and three persons were missing, said Irshad Wali, Bhopal (City) Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police.

The mishap occurred near the newly renovated state police headquarters that also houses the State Disaster Rescue Force (SDRF).

Eleven victims have been identified as Parvez Khan (15), Rohit Maurya (30), Karan (16), Harsh(20), Sunny Thackeray (22), Rahul Verma (30), Vicky (28), Vishal (22), Arjun Sharma(18), Rahul Mishra (20) and Karan (26).

According to eyewitnesses, one boat began to tilt dangerously while the idol was being pushed into the lake and people jumped on the other boat causing the disaster.

A short video of the tragedy shows it took just about 40 seconds for the lives to be lost. No one was wearing life jacket. The boatmen too jumped to safety instead of saving others.

Those victims were residents of 100 quarters of Piplani, BHEL township. The SDRF teams, divers and police teams are searching for the missing through heavy rain.

Chief Minister Kamal Nath ordered a magisterial inquiry, which was notified by Bhopal district collector Tarun Pithode. The authorities have registered an FIR against two boatmen — Akash Batham and Changu Batham — on a report filed by Nirmal Kumar Das.

The Chief Minister also announced Rs 11 lakh aid to the victims’ kin. In an earlier announcement, the Chief Minister had announced Rs 4 lakh for the families of each deceased.

On the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) demand for a higher aid, Kamal Nath said he could not go by the BJP’s assessment. The municipal corporation of Bhopal has also announced an assistance of Rs 2 lakh each for the victims’ families.

Former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the negligence must not go unpunished. He said the assistance of Rs 4 lakh was a paltry amount and should be raised immediately to Rs 25 lakh and a job be offered to one family member of the victims, and wondered why the people were not equipped with life-jackets.

Bhopal BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya backed Chouhan’s demand for raising the amount to Rs 25 lakh.

On March 21, 2016, when Chouhan was the Chief Minister he had ordered a financial aid of Rs 2 lakh each to the kin of five victims of a boat tragedy in the same lake. He had also asked officials to frame guidelines to prevent recurrence of such accidents.

The guidelines were neither announced nor followed.

In that case, 10 youths had reportedly gone to the lake for a party when their boat capsized. While five of them swam to safety, others were drowned. The lessons of the tragedy have been lost both on revellers and administration.

The major lapse on the part of administration and organisers of the procession was that a 21-foot idol was not supposed to be immersed at the Khatlapura ghat where the tragedy occurred.

The administration had not provided for a motor boat or searchlight, to be pressed into service during an emergency. They had also not deputed divers or set up a disaster management booth at the spot.

Of the victims was 15-year-old Parvez Khan, a non-Hindu, who had regularly been installing an idol and participating in the festivities for some time. Parvez lost his father Saeed Khan when he was 12.

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