Kolkata, May 15 (IANS) At least 12 people were missing as an overloaded boat capsized in the Hooghly river in West Bengal’s Burdwan district, officials said on Sunday. During the search for survivors, a woman’s body was found.
Locals, however, claimed that over 50 people drowned in the tragedy near Kalna late Saturday night. They also said that search and rescue operation was delayed, which was denied by authorities.
“The boat had over 100 passengers, including many children. The boat capsized around 11 p.m. (on Saturday), but police arrived at the spot only on Sunday morning and the search operation started late in the (Sunday) afternoon. Over 50 people have drowned,” said a local.
Incensed locals indulged in rioting and set afire several boats in Shantipur’s Nrisinghapur Ghat jetty. At least two security personnel were injured in stone-pelting.
Police fired teargas shells to disperse the crowd and detained at least 20 protestors.
Nadia District Magistrate Vijay Bharti said at least 12 people were reported missing. It was not yet confirmed if the dead woman was among those dozen reported missing.
“So far, we have received reports of 12 people missing — five from Kalna in Burdwan and seven from Nadia. Some more people are claimed to be missing. We are verifying the claims,” Bharti said.
“The body of a woman, aged about 30, has been fished out,” said a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) official heading the search efforts. The victims were on way to Shantipur in Nadia district when the boat capsized.
“There was no delay in the rescue work. The law and order issue arose due to some other reason. The administration acted swiftly to restore peace. Two policemen have sustained injuries,” Bharti said.
State minister Swapan Debnath too denied any delay.
“Rescue operation began as soon as the administration got the news. Several people have been rescued. At the behest of their political masters, some people are making false accusations,” he said after visiting the spot.
Claiming that at least 160 people had gone missing, state Youth Congress president Arindam Bhattacharya accused the police of mercilessly beating up people protesting the delay in the rescue work.
“There was no sign of rescue or search operation late into the (Monday) morning. As people gathered and demanded a search for their near and dear ones, police instead mercilessly rained batons on them,” said Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya, who was a candidate from Shantipur assembly segment, said he sustained head injuries due to police beating.
His Trinamool Congress rival Ajoy Dey accused Bhattacharya of instigating the protestors.
“It is really unfortunate that people are playing politics over a tragedy. There was no delay in the rescue. In fact, it was Bhattacharya and his men who created hurdles in the rescue operation and provoked people to indulge in rioting,” Dey said.