A year on, Godavari boat tragedy refuses to fade away
Fifty-one people drowned as tourist boat capsized near Kachluru on September 15, 2019by Rajulapudi Srinivas
It has been a year. Seventy-seven tourists from four States including Andhra Pradesh on board a boat busy enjoying the scenic beauty of the Godavari River had no clue what was in store for them.
The private tourist boat, Royal Vasista Punnami, capsized in the Godavari that was in spate near Kachluru in Devipatnam mandal of East Godavari district on September 15. Even as 26 of those on board survived—some were wearing safety gears and others rescued by the residents of Kachuluru— 51 people met watery grave. “A year has passed but the tragedy etched deep on memory refuses to fade. The boat capsize had not only snuffed out lives of the tourists, but also shattered their family members who were waiting for their return back home in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,” recalls then Rampachodavaram Additional SP Vakul Jindal, who monitored search operations and was a part of the team that probed into the tragedy.
A 2016 batch IPS officer from Punjab, Mr. Jindal took charge as the ASP just 45 days before the tragedy in Rampachodavaram. “It took 38 days for the mangled parts of the vessel to be retrieved from the river. We searched for bodies for about two months. Every time, we fished out a body from the water, the family members of those missing would to rush to the boat to confirm whether the body was of their dear ones. I break into tears, whenever I remember those heart-wrenching scenes,” says Mr. Jindal, who is working as Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) ASP in Krishna district now.
Boat operations remained suspended as the river was in spate then. But, the Boat Owners’ Association resumed operations on their own from September 14. When the Devipatnam SI stopped the Royal Vasista Punnami, the sarang (driver) showed him a letter purportedly issued by the boating officer. “Police insisted that all passengers wore life jackets and let off the vessel,” recalls Mr. Jindal.
The police reached the sport at the earliest after the tragedy. “The narrow road in the forest was not clear and our vehicle got struck twice. It was one and a half hours journey to reach the spot from Devipatnam. Around 600 people participated in search operations. We continued search in swirling waters amid heavy rain,” he says.
On the first day of the operation, eight bodies were retrieved and the number went up to 30 in four days. Local residents, expert swimmers, personnel from the NDRF, the SDRF, fire and police departments searched for bodies.
“Neither was there a proper road nor the cellphone signals at the spot. The depth of the river where the boat capsized was estimated to be around 200 feet. Thanks to the tribal people, who saved many lives,” says the ASP.
“In all, 47 bodies were retrieved. The police examined 300 witnesses in the case. The boat drivers and boat owners’ association leaders were arrested subsequently,” he adds.