A new trend in tragic accidents seem to be taking the form of disasters. The State of Orissa has reported more deaths due to lightning than any other natural disaster for the year 2009. In West Bengal, the cyclone Aila that hit 18 districts, affected over 6.5 million people left only139 dead in May 2009; but the single capsize of the boat in Muriganga river (in the Sunderbans, West Bengal, India) on Saturday, 30 October seem to have over taken that, although only 67 bodies have been found so far. It is feared that since the accident site is on the mouth of the river meeting the Bay of Bengal, the bodies might have been carried into the sea.
Allegedly there were about 240 persons, mostly women and children on a boat that can carry a maximum of 80 persons, with actual capacity for 50 or so. Similar tragedies, with smaller number of deaths seem to happen almost every month in some part of West Bengal, mostly in the Sunderbans where transport by water is the common mode of travel. The people seem to have not learned the lessons from previous disasters: everyone wants to go by the first boat available, even if that meant risking lives. The boat owners and boatmen have never learned a lesson, as there has been no criminal action initiated on any of them in any of the past tragedies. And then, there are what is called as the Ghat Management Committees. They maintain the arrival and departure of boats. I have traveled hundreds of times in the Sunderbans. I have invariably noticed that these committees seem to have only two tasks: a) Collect the toll from the passengers and the boats; b) Arrange for a big Durga Puja pandal during the Pujas! These bodies must be legalized through the local government bodies (They are currently mostly let out on lease!), and must be charged with criminal negligence in future tragedies if such tragedies take place due to over-crowding. Then you have the policemen. In the case of the Saturday tragedy, the people from the south western islands of South 24 Parganas district had gone to attend a religious festival in Hijli Sheriff in the eastern coast of Purba (East) Medinipur district, and they were returning from the festival. There were at least couple of policemen in Hijli Sheriff who were near the site of embarking into the boat. What were they doing? Cases on criminal negligence must be started on all policemen on duty at Hijli Sheriff. Only such enforcement of law will send out strong warning to callous people around.
Well, after all, we are in a country where the railway minister makes huge noise against the ruling party, but her ministry has not prosecuted even one single person in the tragic rail accident that took place at Sainthia three months ago. Be on the opposition or in the ruling party, rule of law and enforcement of it are essential for good governance. God save West Bengal!