People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 25, 2007
Boat Mishap Claims 18 Lives
Government Orders A Judicial Enquiry
KERALA government ordered a judicial enquiry into the tragic boat accident in the Periyar river that claimed 18 lives including 15 school children and three teachers on February 20. Announcing a judicial probe into the mishap, chief minister V S Achuthanandan also declared an ex-gratia of Rs two lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased. The last rites of the children and their teachers were performed amidst heart breaking scenes.
The tragic event took place around 6.30 pm on Tuesday when a group of 118, including ten teachers and two non-teaching staff from St Antony’s Upper Primary School, Elavoor, near Angamali in Ernakulam district, were on an excursion to Thattekkadu bird sanctuary. The picnic party left in three boats to the bird sanctuary. One-and-a-half kilometers before the sanctuary, one of the boats carrying 42 persons drowned in the Bhoothathankettu reservoir in a boat capsize. All the children were aged below 12 years. Only two of them were rescued. One of the boys who were rescued said the moment water started seeping into the boat the driver had tried to steer the vehicle towards the shore far away. But before reaching there the boat drowned. The bodies of the deceased were fished out by the local people and fire and rescue services personnel. The police recovered the ill-fated boat from the river and it was brought ashore for further investigation. The driver, who owned the boat, absconded soon after the incident and a case against him was registered. Five state ministers, M A Baby, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, S Sharma, T U Kuruvila and Binoy Vishwam reached the spot and coordinated the rescue operations.
The bodies of the deceased were kept at their school and people queued up from early morning to pay their last respects. Ministers, MLAs, political party leaders and people from all walks of life reached the school to pay homage to the departed.
After visiting the Angamali St Antony’s school, where the bodies were kept for the public to pay their last tributes, chief minister said the judicial probe would determine the circumstances that led to the incident. He said the probe would look into factors like boat safety and the timing of the picnic party to visit the place. State Home and Tourism minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said all measures would be taken to prevent such incidents from recurring. He said the government was committed to ban boat services without license in the state. Expressing his deep grief over the incident, Education minister M A Baby said the government would formulate a policy to ensure the safety of school children and teachers going on excursions. The policy would be applicable to all government and private schools in the state, he said. Apart from the ex-gratia amount of Rs two lakh each, the Education ministry and the Revenue ministry provided Rs 10,000 and Rs 5000 respectively to each family towards the funeral expenses. The Kerala School Teachers’ Association (KSTA) announced that it would mobilise Rs ten lakh from teachers all over the state and would hand it over to the relatives of the deceased.