Amaravati: Search operations for 29 missing people in the boat tragedy in Andhra Pradesh proved to be a daunting task following heavy rain and surging flood in River Godavari as the toll rose to 12 on Monday while the vessel was located at a depth of 300 feet.
A day after the boat on its way to the picturesque Papikondalu tourist spot overturned, officials put the toll at 12 with the recovery of four bodies, including that of an infant, on Monday morning.
Announcing confirmed figures, official sources said the boat was carrying 68 people, including nine crew. As many as 27 people survived the mishap while the search was on for remaining 29 people.
Eight bodies were retrieved on Sunday hours after the boat 'Royal Vasishta' met with the accident, apparently on colliding with a large rock formation, at Kachchuluru, about 200 km from here. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy undertook an aerial survey of the accident spot.
As the boat was traced at a depth of 300 feet in the river, officials are now trying to move heavy cranes and other equipment to the accident spot at Kachhuluru. Expert divers of Navy and specialist deep divers from Uttarakhand were said to be capable of reaching a depth of only about 150 feet.
A UH 3H helicopter of the Indian Navy carried out the search operation in the morning, followed by a Chetak. A helicopter of the ONGC was also used for the search operation. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and AP Disaster Response and Fire Services personnel also combed the area in eight boats.
A criminal case under Section 304 (A) of IPC (causing death due to negligence) has been registered against the Royal Vasishta boat owner K Venkata Ramana. Preliminary investigation into the tragedy established the boat was operated in violation of the ban imposed because of the heavy flood in the river, official sources said.
On August 4, the government prohibited operation of passenger boats in the river as the flood discharge increased. The Devipatnam police were said to have warned the boat operator against running the service but the latter did not heed claiming he had the required license.
Having a boat license is different. Requisite permission from the Water Resources Department is mandatory for ferrying passengers. We are investigating into all this, a senior police official in Rajamahendravaram said.
Besides undertaking the aerial survey, Jagan Mohan Reddy visited the injured tourists undergoing treatment in the government hospital in Rajamahendravaram and enquired about the incident. According to a CMO release, later, at a review meeting, the Chief Minister pulled up the officials saying, We are responsible for this tragedy.
These many people lost their lives. Who is responsible for this? This happened only because of our negligence, he observed, adding he was deeply anguished listening to the survivors tales. In addition to the Rs 10 lakh ex-gratia he announced on Sunday for each of the kin of the deceased, Jagan Reddy announced a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to each of the injured passengers and Rs one lakh each to those who had a providential escape in the mishap.
I am announcing this compensation because we are at fault and responsible for the mishap, he was quoted as saying by the release. He directed that a high-level committee, headed by the Special Chief Secretary (Water Resources), be constituted to investigate the boat accident and also suggest corrective measures to prevent recurrence of such mishaps.
The Chief Minister expressed unhappiness over the licensing system for boat operations and wondered why there was no control room to monitor navigation of boats in the river, it said. He directed that a control room be set up immediately and also that all departments concerned take effective steps for ensuring (boat) passenger safety.
Telangana Ministers Erraballi Dayakar Rao and Puvvada Ajay also visited Rajamahendravaram to console the victims of the boat tragedy as most of them were from their state. Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao has announced an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh each to the bereaved families from his state.