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Assam: Criminal Case To Be Filed Over Ferry Accident; additional chief secy to probe

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Guwahati: Assam Chief Minister Dr.  Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday ordered filing of a criminal case over sinking of a boat in the Brahmaputra river, that claimed one life while two persons are still missing.

The private boat headed to Majuli collided with a ferry steamer operated by the government, capsized and sank near Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district on Wednesday.

The Assam Cabinet also decided that Additional Chief Secretary Maninder Singh will conduct the inquiry into the boat tragedy and submit a report within a month, a minister said.

The Cabinet met on Thursday evening after Sarma returned from Majuli and Jorhat, where he reviewed the rescue operation and visited the injured at a hospital.

“Today morning I spoke to the Centre, which will construct the bridge. Once the drawing is approved, construction will start from November. After that, it will take four years to complete. A ministerial group will be formed to monitor its progress,” Sarma added.

The Cabinet entrusted Finance Minister Ajanta Neog with the responsibility to monitor the construction of Jorhat-Majuli connecting bridge.

The chief minister announced at Jorhat that all single-engine private boats from plying to Majuli will be banned with immediate effect.

After visiting the accident site with senior officials, he told reporters that the initial probe indicated “mismanagement” to be the prime reason for the accident, which occurred on Wednesday evening.

The police also resorted to baton-charge the people who were protesting in Majuli, the world”s largest river island, over the boat tragedy and lack of safety measures in vessels carrying passengers, vehicles and goods.

CM Sarma said a total of 90 people were travelling on the ill-fated private boat. Out of them, one person died and two are still missing. Overnight search and rescue operations found 87 persons alive.

“We have one person confirmed dead and two persons still missing. We can only hope that these missing persons are alive. A massive joint rescue operation is going on in the area and downstream,” he said.

He admitted there are allegations that government ferries are deliberately run at odd hours, forcing people to commute in unsafe private boats during peak hours.

“We will correct everything. Now one magistrate each in Jorhat and Majuli will monitor the timings. You will see the situation improving considerably in the next 10-15 days,” Sarma said.

On Wednesday night, three officials of the IWT Department were placed under suspension for negligence of duty, while senior ministers admitted that there were lapses and the “guilty” will be punished.

In Majuli, Power Minister Bimal Borah, who reached the island ahead of the Chief Minister”s visit, was gheraoed by the agitating students, forcing him to sit on the road at Garmur Chariali for almost half-an-hour as he tried to talk to the protesters.

Trying to pacify the agitators, Borah said, “I have come here to listen to your grievances. You please talk among yourselves and then let a delegation meet us with your demands.”

Though he tried to end the protests, he left when agitators did not relent and demanded the chief minister to come and talk to them.

Borah silently walked away as the police escorted him out of the crowd.

“We had to use a mild lathi-charge after the crowd became restless. We have reports of some protesters sustaining injuries, but cannot confirm the number,” a police officer said.

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