The ill-fated minibus is being removed from the Calvim river on Saturday. (Erwin Fonseca)
MAPUSA: In a tragic drowning incident, six persons, including four primary schoolchildren, died after a private passenger minibus named as Shree Ganesh plunged into the Calvim river along with its passengers just after 12.30 p.m. One man trapped inside the bus was also rescued, sources said.
Locals said the minibus plunged head on into the river, submerging almost instantly with Priyal Salgaonkar (10) from Nachinola, Diana Dias (5), Josephine Dias (58), Helena Dias (13), Nigella Gracias (13) – all from Calvim -- and Dayanand Hoble (55) from Mayem onboard. Three of the children were students of St Thomas Girls High School, Aldona.
The driver and the conductor of the minibus jumped out of it and saved themselves leaving the passengers to their fate. They later surrendered to the police. The driver, Mr Rajesh Naik, who is also the owner of the minibus (GA 01 V 2283), claimed that the bus brakes failed and it plunged into the river. Mr Naik was arrested under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC.
The police said they did not have the exact number of children onboard the bus but some said that there could have been 10-15. However, officials said that there were only six passengers and all the six bodies have been recovered.
Around 500 locals played a crucial role in recovering the cadavers of some of the victims from the fast flowing river. The police reached the accident site almost an hour after the disaster and rescue services almost an hour after the police arrival.
At around 2 p.m. a heavy duty crane arrived and the serious work to remove the bus began. The locals alleged that initially a helicopter from the coast guard arrived but the diver made one dive and gave up as he did not have any equipment to undertake any more dives. It was only after more than two hours that the naval divers came that the government agencies actually began their search and rescue operation.
For the crucial two hours it was only the locals who pitched in rescue operation. Personnel from the Navy, the Army and the Rapid Action Force and other related services were pressed into service along with lifeguards.
“I was in Tivim when I heard about the tragedy,” Mr Carlos Rebello from Calvim said, “As soon as I heard about it I rushed back.” He alleged that government reaction was very slow and locals took the lead and began the search and rescue operation in the absence of the organised services even though there was a strong current flowing.
The bus has since been pulled out of the river.
The Chief Minister, Mr Digambar Kamat condoled the bereaved families and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh ex gratia to the families of the deceased. The government ordered a magisterial probe and cancelled the Carnival parade in Panaji.
“In view of the tragedy I asked them to cancel the parade at Panaji and in memory (of the dead) and have stopped my campaigning for today. The government will also provide Rs.2 lakh ex gratia for the families of the deceased,” Mr Kamat told the media on Saturday.
The locals also alleged that the RTO has to be partly blamed for not doing anything about the bad condition of the buses and callous attitude of bus owners. They claimed that buses on this route are 20 years old.
The Chief Secretary and the DGP were camping at the spot on the express orders of the Chief Minister who personally spoke to the naval authorities.
Local leaders, including local MLA, Mr Dayanand Narvekar, the opposition leader, Mr Manohar Parrikar, Aldona BJP candidate, Mr Glenn Ticlo, his Trinamool Congress opponent, Dr Wilfred de Souza, the Mapusa MLA, Mr Francisco ‘Babush’ D’Souza, the AICC secretary and in-charge of Goa desk, Mr Sudhakar Reddy, senior government officials and almost 5,000 people rushed to the site.
Rescue operations were still on.