Vadodara boat tragedy a catastrophe that will take time to sink in

Om Sharma
By Om Sharma 7 Min Read

JANUARY 19, 2024

A tragic incident unfolded in Vadodara, Gujarat, as at least 14 lives were lost, including 12 schoolchildren and two teachers, when a seemingly overcrowded boat, carrying a school group on a picnic, capsized in the Harni lake on Thursday evening, according to local officials.

Rescuers from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) tirelessly searched for survivors and bodies late into the evening, even as darkness fell, in the aftermath of the Vadodara boat tragedy. A glimmer of hope emerged as 13 children were successfully rescued, marking a testament to the relentless efforts of the rescue teams in the face of this heart-wrenching disaster.

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Initial investigations revealed that the Vadodara boat tragedy occurred due to overloading, with the vessel carrying more than twice its capacity, and the absence of life-jackets on board, according to senior government officials. The incident unfolded around 5 pm during a picnic for children from New Sunrise School on Waghodia Road in Vadodara. Shockingly, the boat, designed for a maximum of 14 passengers, was overloaded with over 31 individuals, including the four operators, at the time of the accident. Local officials, who chose to remain anonymous, provided these details, shedding light on the severe safety lapses that contributed to this tragic event.

Following the Vadodara boat tragedy, videos taken shortly after the incident depicted a harrowing scene, with rescuers on inflatable boats guiding at least half a dozen divers in a desperate search for survivors or bodies.

The re-development of the lake by the Vadodara civic body for recreational purposes adds a grim dimension to the catastrophe, raising questions about the safety measures and oversight in place for such activities.

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This marks the deadliest boating accident in the city since August 11, 1993, when 22 lives were lost in a similar incident involving an overloaded boat capsizing in the Sursagar lake, also under the maintenance of the Vadodara civic body.

In response to the tragedy, an FIR has been filed against five individuals, including the promoters of the company operating the boats. The state government has initiated a high-level inquiry, headed by the Vadodara district magistrate, with a comprehensive report expected within the next 10 days. This underscores the urgent need for accountability and a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the boat tragedy.

The boat tragedy in Vadodara takes a legal turn as the owners and management of the boat, operated by Sri Kotiya Project, including Paresh Shah, face charges under various sections, including section 304 of the Indian Penal Code for culpable homicide. As the recovery efforts continue, Commissioner of Police Anupam Singh Gahlaut confirms 12 schoolchildren and two teachers have been found dead, with ongoing search operations in the 25-foot-deep water. The accident occurred with the final batch of 27 students, four teachers, and four operators on board, and early estimates suggest all students are currently believed to be accounted for.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an ex-gratia relief of ₹2 lakh from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the families of each deceased victim, and ₹50,000 each for the families of those wounded in the accident. Expressing distress over the loss of lives, PM Modi stated, “My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of grief.

May the injured recover soon. The local administration is providing all possible assistance to those affected.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, actively overseeing the rescue efforts at the site, announced a compensation of ₹4 lakh for the families of the deceased and ₹50,000 for those of the injured. In a post on X, he affirmed the ongoing emergency relief and rescue operations, expressing hope for the safety of more lives.

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Expressing her shock and concern, Mansuri blamed the school management for their apparent negligence, stating, “I am really shocked. How can the school management be so careless? I can only feel grateful that my son is alive.

” She highlighted the lack of communication from the school authorities, noting that they were unaware of the accident until it was reported on local news channels. Mansuri recounted how her son’s grandfather went to pick him up, only to be informed that the bus had not yet returned.

The alarming situation was further compounded when she discovered the news on TV about a capsized boat at the lake around 5.30 pm, emphasizing her relief only when her brother-in-law confirmed her son’s safety after rushing to the scene.

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Sohanlal Kahar, a parent of a surviving student, revealed that he awaited a text message from the school to collect his son. When no message arrived, he went to the school, only to be informed to pick up his child from Harni lake. Kahar’s son shared that the boat overturned on its third trip ferrying the children.

The student, in second class, provided this limited information. In response to the tragic incident, Gujarat education minister Kuber Dindor announced a probe, emphasizing that the boat exceeded its capacity and students were not equipped with life jackets, promising action against those responsible for the lapses.

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