Jorhat: At least one person died and 20 people went missing after a boat with over 120 people on board sank in the Brahmaputra river after colliding with a ferry steamer near Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district of Assam on Wednesday, officials said.
The accident occurred when the private boat ‘Ma Kamala’ was headed to Majuli from Nimati Ghat and ferry ‘Tripkai’, operated by the state’s Inland Water Transport (IWT) Department, was coming from the riverine island.
“The boat capsized and sank,” an official of the IWT Department said. Another IWT official said more than 120 passengers were on board the boat but many of them were rescued by lifeguards on ‘Tripkai’.
A woman died in hospital after she was rescued from the river, Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) Chief Executive Officer Gyanendra Tripathi told PTI.
“We have reports of around 15-20 people missing. Several teams of NDRF and SDRF are carrying out rescue operations with support from the Army and para divers,” he said.
Three senior officials of IWT Department were suspended on the charge of negligence of duty in connection with the accident, an official statement said.
Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Ashok Barman told PTI that 41 people have been rescued so far and no body has been recovered from the water yet.
“After sinking, it swept around 1.5 km away and stuck in the bed of the river. The boat is upside down now and we are not able to turn it around. Once we can do that, we will be able to see if anybody is stuck there,” he added.
Divers from the Army will join the operations with some advanced machines, Barman said.
The boat was also carrying 27 motorcycles, he said.
The NDRF and SDRF have started a rescue and search operation but they are facing difficulties as it was pitch dark after the sunset.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah called Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to enquire about the accident and took an update on the rescue operation and condition of those rescued so far.
“He said the Central Government is ready to lend all possible help. Grateful to him,” Sarma tweeted.
The chief minister expressed concern over the accident and directed the district administrations of Majuli and Jorhat to undertake a rescue mission earnestly with the help of NDRF and SDRF.
He also asked minister Bimal Bora to rush to the site of the accident.
Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary is also on the way to Nimati Ghat, around 315 km from Guwahati.
Sarma asked Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Samir Kumar Sinha to monitor the developments round-the-clock.
Sarma asked Principal Secretary to the chief minister Samir Kumar Sinha to monitor the developments “round-the-clock”.
The CM will visit Nimati Ghat on Thursday to take stock of the situation.
Union Minister of Shipping, Ports and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal, who hails from Assam, also expressed deep anguish and concern on the accident in the mighty Brahmaputra.
He too spoke with Sarma over the phone about the accident.
“Officials of the Ministry have been directed to provide all necessary support to help the victims,” according to a statement from Sonowal’s office.
IWT Department officials said only one ramp at Nimati Ghat is functioning at present as water level in the Brahmaputra is high due to monsoon rain.
“As only one ramp is operational, any outgoing ferry has to give way to the incoming one. ‘Ma Kamala’ had to leave the ghat to give way to Tripkai. After it had gone just a few metres, the two collided,” an official said.
As ‘Ma Kamala’ is run by private parties, they did not have a system to give tickets to passengers, and hence the exact number of people on the boat at the time of the accident is not known, the official said.
Three senior IWT officials were suspended following the accident for alleged negligence of duty.
“Three officials, namely Bikramaditya Choudhury, in-charge Executive Engineer, IWT, Dibrugarh Division; Mukut Gogoi, in-charge Assistant Executive Engineer, IWT, Jorhat Sub-Division and Ratul Tamuli, Junior Engineer, IWT, Jorhat Sub-Division have been placed under suspension,” an official statement said.
Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary ordered senior officials of the IWT Department to rush to the spot.
“I am closely monitoring the ongoing rescue and relief operation. I am deeply saddened by the tragic ferry accident at Majuli. Departmental action will be taken against those found guilty,” he added.
Patowary also ordered Transport Secretary Jadav Saikia to enquire about the accident.
Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said a party delegation will visit the Nimati Ghat on Thursday to take stock of the situation.
Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi said, “Sad to know about the tragic ferry capsize incident at Nimatighat between Jorhat and Majuli. I urge the govt of Assam to take emergency measures to save the lives of the people.”
Assam Jatiya Parishad President Lurinjyoti Gogoi criticised the IWT Department for allegedly failing to take steps to ensure safety of the people though such incidents had taken place earlier.