by Syed Shadab Ali Gillani

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SRINAGAR: Tragedy struck in the Gandbal area of Srinagar on Tuesday morning when a boat carrying school children, accompanied by their family members, capsized in the Jhelum River near Batwara. The incident occurred around 8 am.

The boat, which typically ferried passengers from Gandbal to Batwara daily, was overloaded with children, women, and men. The huge boat, called Khoutch in Kashmiri, would cross the river using a rope tied on two banks. It broke and the boat sailed with the water currents. It had reached the middle of the river, when the rope broke and it hit something that bifurcated the boat.

An elderly woman grieves the tragic loss of six lives in the boat capsize incident in the Batwara area of Srinagar on April 16, 2024( KL images: Sahil Mir)
An elderly woman grieves the tragic loss of six lives in the boat capsize incident in the Batwara area of Srinagar on April 16, 2024( KL images: Sahil Mir)

Soon, the locals got into rescue, who were joined by SDRF, NDRF teams, and the army. Despite their efforts, six people have been confirmed dead, while five others have been rescued and are undergoing treatment at SMHS. The rest of the passengers remain missing.

“One household lost three members, with the mother still unaccounted for,” a local resident said, highlighting the personal toll of the tragedy.

The area’s lack of infrastructure, including an unfinished bridge over the river, has hindered transportation between Gandbal and Batwara since 2008. This incident underscores the urgent need for completion of such projects to ensure the safety of the community.

A survivor recounted the harrowing experience, expressing anguish over the loss of family members: “We were overcrowded today, and as the boat approached the other side, it suddenly capsized. My brother is still missing. I can’t bear the thought of losing my family.”

Another survivor, Mushtaq Ahmed while recalling about the tragedy said that there were at least 26 passengers, including children and women in the boat. While the boat reached the middle of the river, the boat capsized, “I somehow managed to grab a rope and survived, with me two other boys and a woman got saved too. Rest of them drowned in the river.”

Mushtaq said that at the time of the tragedy, he was going to his work, “there were labourers in the boat, young children going to school and their parents accompanying them. All of them drowned,” he said, while tears started falling from his eyes, “it is the first time this happened. Had there been a bridge we would not have been struck by such a tragedy.” The boat, Mushtaq said had a capacity of carrying at least 40 passengers.

Meanwhile, authorities have launched a large-scale rescue operation to locate people who drowned in the River Jhelum after the boat overturned here on Tuesday morning.

Talking to media Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Dr Bilal Mohiuddin Bhat said, “Around eight in the morning, a boat capsizes in the Jhelum connecting Batwara and Gandbal. As per the reports, there were around 15 people in the boat carrying them across, eight were adults, and seven were minors. The SDRF, NDRF, and Army teams and the local search teams are doing the rescue operation. Twelve out of the fifteen people have been rescued, but six people among them unfortunately are dead. Three persons have been hospitalized and three people are normal at home. As of now, all the search parties of the Police, Army, SDRF, NDRF, along other administrative units are searching the identified site for missing people-one adult and two children. We are putting our utmost effort into rescuing the missing persons”, Said DC Srinagar.

Talking about the boat capsize SSP Srinagar, Ashish Mishra, said that our priority is to rescue the missing persons for that we have inducted the four teams of SDRF, and NDRF, and two teams of river police. We have also put the MARCOS for the search operation. Due to the turbidity of water and high water currents, it is a challenging task but we have trained people for such operations, and we will finish the rescue operation at the earliest.

The missing include, a father-son duo and a seven years old child Farhan, who was travelling to school alongside with his mother, while the dead include a mother and her two children, both of them were off to school. Amongst the dead, five were laid to rest while three amongst the rescued are undergoing treatment.

The tragedy triggered reactions from people coming from all across the different classes of society. From locals to political figures, to bureaucrats and other members of the administration, everyone is expressing their shock and condolences on the tragedy.

Mehbooba Mufti requested LG Manoj Sinha to initiate an enquiry at the earliest to ascertain reasons for the inordinate delay in the completion of a foot bridge.
Interestingly, the work of the footbridge saw many regimes come and go but the bridge still awaits its completion.
MohamadYousufTarigami, a CPI (M) leader, said that the prolonged construction of the nearby footbridge, reportedly pending for the last 20 years, could potentially have prevented such a tragedy.

Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, JKNC LokSabha candidate from Srinagar constituency cancelled all his campaigning programms for today and tomorrow in view of the incident.

Pertinently, the Batwara boat tragedy is one of its kinds in recent times here in Kashmir. Interestingly, the locals of the area depended on boats and ferries for traveling and it became a routine for them, as the area is missing a bridge for the connectivity.

A week ago a boat capsized in the Wular Lake, resulting in the death of a 45 years old fisherman, a father of four.

Back in 2006, a similar tragedy took place in the district Bandipora of North Kashmir, where a boat carrying at least 35 school-going children capsized in Wular Lake, resulting in the death of more than ten children.

Meanwhile the rescue operation is still going on and the fate of three missing persons remains unknown.


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