At least 14 people – 12 schoolchildren and two teachers – were killed after a seemingly overcrowded boat carrying a school group on a picnic overturned into the Harni lake in Gujarat’s Vadodara on Thursday evening, local officials said.
Rescuers from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) looked for survivors and bodies late into the evening as darkness fell, with 13 children having been rescued.
Initial investigations suggested that the boat was loaded far beyond its capacity and that there were no life-jackets on board, senior government officials said. “The incident took place around 5pm when children from New Sunrise School located on Waghodia Road in Vadodara were out for a picnic. The children were from Class 1 to Class 6. The maximum capacity of the boat is around 14 passengers, but more than 31 people were crammed on it at the time of the accident besides the four operators,” local officials, who did not wish to be identified, said.
Videos taken shortly after the incident showed rescuers on inflatable boats trying to guide at least half a dozen divers look for survivors or bodies. The lake was re-developed by the Vadodara civic body for recreational purposes.
This is the deadliest boating accident in the city since August 11, 1993, when 22 people were killed after an overloaded boat capsized in the Sursagar lake, which is also maintained by the Vadodara civic body. A first information report, or FIR, has been filed against five individuals, including the promoters of the company operating the boats.
The state government has also initiated a high-level inquiry into the matter, to be headed by the Vadodara district magistrate. A comprehensive report is to be filed within the next 10 days in this regard.
The contract for operating the boat was with a firm called Sri Kotiya Project, which was promoted by a person named Paresh Shah, Anupam Singh Gahlaut, commissioner of police, Vadodara told HT. “We have booked the owners of the boat and its management under various sections, including section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder),” Gahlaut said.
“So far, we have recovered 12 bodies of schoolchildren and two of teachers... NDRF officials and others are still carrying out search operations. The water level is about 25 feet deep. The students had gone on the boat in batches and the accident happened with the final batch. There were 27 students, four teachers and four operators in the boat that sank,” said Gahlaut, adding that based on early estimates, all students appeared to be accounted for.