- 24 killed when boat sank in January during popular kite festival
- Boat ferrying people from one side of river to the other was overloaded
- Probe cites multiple lapses in planning, coordination, execution of event
Here are the 10 latest developments in this story:
A two-member inquiry panel headed by Energy Secretary Pratyay Amrit and Deputy Inspector General Shaleen set up to probe the tragedy has cited multiple lapses in planning, coordinating and executing the programme conceived by the Saran administration and the tourism corporation. The panel's report has been submitted to Chief Secretary Anjani Kumar Singh.
The boat, loaded with people far beyond its capacity, had taken visitors to the three-day Kite festival from the Ganga Ghat across the river when it capsized a little before 6 p.m. on January 14. Videos of the tragedy captured by people on their mobile phone recorded the passengers desperately calling for help. Tourism department officials had earlier argued that the Kite Festival had ended by then but the crowds had not thinned out due to an event at an amusement park close by.
A team of the Bihar Disaster Relief Force had been deployed at the venue, as is standard practice, but they had not been on stand-by through the day. Instead, the divers and their boats were used to ferry people through the day and had packed up early. They weren't at hand when they were needed the most.
But the inquiry panel reserved its most severe indictment for the non-serious approach of the Saran district administration that, it said, committed grave lapses in organizing the festival including inadequate deployment of police personnel.
It was a reflection of the absence of supervision by senior officers that out of the 38 magisterial officers deployed at the festival, only 14 magistrates were present. The remaining 24 were found missing. Magistrates are deployed at places where there is a large congregation of people to ensure compliance of standard operating procedures by junior officials and take on-the-spot decisions in case of any problem.
The Bihar Tourism Corporation was not spared either by the inquiry panel which noted that the body, as the chief organiser, had not even bothered to call a joint meeting of the two districts that fall on either side of the river, Patna and Sarna. The First Information Report was finally lodged by Patna police since the tragedy took place closer to the bank on its side.
Through the day, the report said, the boats ferrying people from one side of the river to the other were overloaded, and had been plying unregulated. There was no one from the administration to enforce basic safety regulations spelt out for the boatmen.
The state disaster management body had come up with Model Boat Rules as far back as in 2011 that asked district authorities to regulate them and spelt out the precautions including training of the boatmen to prevent similar tragedies. But the state government had not mandated its implementation for more than six years.
Chief Secretary Kumar is expected to soon set the ball rolling to take action against officials named by the inquiry panel for dereliction to duty under the civil services conduct rules.
The officials, however, are not the only ones that may be on the firing line. The inquiry report also gives ammunition to the BJP to renew attacks on Mr Nitish Kumar. "If the CM can take credit for the arrangements for Prakashotsav (in Patna) and Kalchakra (in Bodhgaya), then he should also take the responsibility of the death of 24 people," BJP's Sushil Modi said the day after the tragedy, trying to pin the blame on Mr Kumar.