statesman news service
MALDA, 14 JUNE: Thirty-five persons were feared drowned in a boat capsizal on the river Ganga that took place here this morning. Although two bodies have been recovered so far, 30 are still missing, according to villagers.
Twenty-three passengers were rescued, eight of whom are still undergoing treatment in hospital. The state government has announced Rs 2 lakh as compensation for the victims.
Like every day, a passenger-packed boat sailed from Rustampur Ghat to the Rustampur islands on the western side of the river.
Farmers, including women and children of Rustamtola, Ramchandtola, Jisarattola, Nakitola, Aswinipur and others, gathered on the bank of the river to catch the first boat. Although they live on the eastern bank of the river, their lands fall in Rahinpur and Rustampur mouza on the western side, close to Jharkhand.
The first boat which sailed this morning around 6 a.m. also allegedly carried 60 passengers, much beyond its capacity. Two buffaloes were also on board.
Strong winds this morning triggered a huge waves in the river. Barely 150 metres from the bank, the boat suddenly began to capsize, and passengers fell into the water.
Nearly an hour elapsed before two boats reached the spot to rescue some of the passengers.
Bhagabati Mandal (60) and Dolgobinda Ghosh (60) were found dead. Another youth Sourav Mandal (18) was rescued in a serious condition and taken to Malda Medical College and Hospital. Later, five more were taken to hospital. Altogether, 23 passengers were rescued.
A shattered Niranjan Mandal, one of the survivors, said: “We objected to the boat taking on buffaloes but the boatman did not listen to us. Only 150 metres from the bank we faced the calamity. Two huge waves hit our boat. We sensed the danger. The boatman was trying to turn the boat around and it capsized.”
Mr Tojibur Rahman who despite being able to reach the bank could not rescue his 60-year-old father Sheikh Saodagar.
Mr Atul Mandal was speechless having lost his wife, Renu. However, the contractors of this ferry service ~ Sohardi Sheikh, Haji Sheikh or Ilyas ~ were no where to be seen. 
The District Magistrate G Kiran Kumar, Superintendent of Police Kalyan Mukherjee, Social welfare Minister Sabitri Mitra rushed to the spot and supervised the rescue operation. Three speedboats and boats were pressed into service. Divers from Murshidabad were also engaged.
The DM said rescue operations would continue for the whole night and two camps were opened at Rahinpur and Panchanandapur. Mr Kumar said: “So far we have got two bodies and 14 persons are reportedly missing. Each of the victims would get Rs 2 lakh as compensation from the state government.”