One died and two are still missing in the Nimatighat Boat tragedy. Rescue operations are underway. And prayers for the safe return of the missing passengers, Dr Bikramjit Baruah and Jan Borah, are continuously pouring in. Everyone is haunted by the horrific visuals of the accident and it is a bone-chilling sight for people who have to travel regularly by Brahmaputra waterways for various reasons.
On Wednesday, after a boat carrying dozens of people, bikes, and cars capsized, 87 people are rescued or survived. Nine injured including a couple of children are undergoing treatment at the Jorhat Medical College hospital. Fortunately, all the injured ones are out of danger.
But the trauma of those injured in the accident cannot be ignored in any way even if the physical injury is not so serious. The relief of survival has not diminished the horror of those moments they had to face.
“We were travelling from Jorhat to Majuli. There were at least 50-60 passengers onboard. Suddenly our ferry was hit by a bigger boat coming from the opposite direction. At first, I asked all to stay calm but within seconds I realised the water level has reached up to my knee. The boat was broken and I knew I have no other choice but to jump into the river. I jumped and I don’t know how to swim so I was struggling not to drown. Somehow I could hold onto a floating trolley bag and come near to the other vessel. I saw one girl was trying to pull her mother up and I just screamed and begged her to save me, I have a 3-year-old daughter, please save me, I told her. She immediately offered her other hand while pulling up her mother with another hand. I got up with her help, those moments of horror I am not able to forget,” one survivor said.
Several passengers of the capsized boat who were fortunate enough to save themselves by jumping and swimming to the bank in Nimatighat left for their homes in Majuli on Thursday from the Tekelifuta Ghat in Sivasagar Disangmukh. Survivors explained how their boat ‘Ma Kamala’ capsized within 2-3 minutes after it was hit by the bigger vessel. By the time rescue teams reached the spot people were either missing or survived on their own.
One of such survivors Ramachandra Satola, a young man from Kamalabari in Majuli, gave a thrilling description of the accident before the News18, “We were about to start our journey from Nimati to Kamalabari in Majuli but just as we were leaving, the bigger ferry coming from the other side hit us in full speed. Our boat was broken into two halves mid-water. Water was filling inside quickly and the boat was about to sink, we were helplessly trapped, most people jumped into the water without thinking.”
He also shared his grief of losing his two-wheeler which was drowned alongside the boat carrying it to the other end.
While some are fortunate enough to tell their stories, some are not. One such unfortunate soul is Parimita Das of Kahilipara in Guwahati. The 28-year-old assistant lecturer of Rangachahi College in Majuli couldn’t survive and was declared dead in Jorhat Medical College hospital after she was rescued from the water. She was returning to her work as school and colleges were reopening after a long break.
“I told her not to go, she could continue online class, but she said, ma I have to go. I shouldn’t disappoint Principal sir,” her weeping mother said.
A bright student of Assam Jatiya Bidyalaya and Cotton University Parimita’s accidental and untimely demise has sparked widespread protest in Majuli. Locals, students including her students from Rangasahi college staged a protest outside the DC office in Majuli on Thursday, agitators demanded immediate termination of Majuli DC Bikram Kairi.
Power Minister Bimal Bora who is in Majuli on Assam Chief Minister Dr Himnata Biswa Sarma’s instruction had to sit on the road at Garmur Chariali for at least 30minutes trying to talk to the protestors.
“I came here to talk to you. Please decide among yourselves and send a 10-member delegation to discuss things with us,” Borah requested the students. But they were adamant with their demand that CM himself should come and face their questions.
“Why the ro-ro ship is not running even in monsoon? What is its use? If it’s unserviceable why it was not repaired on time? We had to travel dangerously every time. No tickets are given and there is not a single life jacket available. Where is the much-hyped bridge? We are hearing about it since our birth but till now not a single pillar can be seen?,” agitated students asked the Minister who left before the situation got into more tense mode and at one point police and para-military personnel had to use lathi-charge to disperse the crowd.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister visited the accident spot and later went to see injured persons at JMCH. He announced a high-level enquiry and compensation for the boat accident victims. He had a meeting with representatives of various organisations in Majuli.
“GoA is committed to passengers’ safety & hassle-free movement of ferries between Kamalabari & Nimati Ghat. The number of passengers per boat will be fixed. Strict action against non-compliance. Assured this to reps of AASU, TMPK, AJYCP & other local organizations in #Majuli today,” the CM tweeted after their meeting
The Nimati boat accident has raised many questions on part of accountability and the Opposition has slammed former Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and demanded the removal of Transport Minister Chandramohan Patowary for repetitive failure.
“Sonowal, who has become the chief minister with Majuli people’s vote is now the Union Minister. But there is no trace of the bridge in Majuli as he promised. BJP laid its foundation twice but no construction is to be seen. Sonowal has failed to fulfil his promise," APCC President Bhupen Borah said at a press meet. The Opposition also demanded Transport Minister Patowary’s resignation who is in charge of the same department since 2016.
Three officers of the Internal Water Transport department including executive engineer Vikramaditya Chaudhary are suspended after the Nimatighat boat accident. Before this, the same officer was suspended after a similar tragic boat accident in Guwahati in 2018. Demanding to fix responsibility, the APCC President said Minister Patowary should immediately resign taking responsibility for continued failure.
Denying the Opposition’s allegation Central Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said construction of the proposed bridge is underway and as announced by Assam CM Dr Sarma it will be completed on time with close coordination of the State and Central governments. Sonowal will be visiting Majuli on Friday.
The Nimati Ferry tragedy has brought back horrific memories of similar past accidents and people from across the State are slamming the IWTD department’s repetitive failure and also demanding the strictest possible action against the concerned team fixing responsibility.