Guwahati, May 1 (IANS): Rescue operations continued in the Brahmaputra in Assam today, a day after a ferry capsized in the river killing nearly 70 people, but with at least 150 still missing the death toll was expected to rise, officials said.
On Tuesday, the district administration pressed into service a helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to step up the rescue operations in Monday's incident, in which a storm hit the ferry, causing it to drown in Lower Assam's Dhubri district.
Abdul Aziz, a survivor, said there were over 300 passengers on the ferry. "The storm was so strong that it broke the ferry into pieces," he said.
A district administration official said: "The casualty might go up as we are yet to ascertain the exact number of passengers on the ferry. As per our information, about 240 passengers bought tickets but there were passengers without tickets too...We have taken all possible measures to search and rescue victims."
At least 68 people died and over 150 are still missing after the ferry, which was on its way to Madattari under Fakirganj police station from Dhubri town, capsized in heavy storm in Brahmaputra river on Monday evening.
The Border Security Force (BSF) and the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF), which started rescue operations immediately after the incident along with local people, could bring ashore 80 people till Monday night. Some passengers managed to swim to the river bank.
The Prime Minister spoke to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to convey his condolences and express solidarity with the people of Assam.
An official communique from the Chief Minister's Office said Gogoi has directed the Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management Departments, to expedite rescue and relief operations.
Ex-gratia from Assam government: Meanwhile, the Assam government today announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1.5 lakh each to the next of kin of those who died in the boat tragedy in Dhubri district a day earlier.
Assam Transport Minister Chandan Brahma rushed to the Fakirganj area this morning to take stock of the situation, a day after the boat carrying 250-300 people drowned in the Brahmaputra river. The minister announced that while the family members of the deceased will be paid Rs 1.5 lakh, seriously injured passengers will be given Rs 50,000 each.
"The government has also arranged for free treatment for all victims who are undergoing treatment in various hospitals," Brahma said. "We have ordered an inquiry into the whole incident to find out what is the exact cause of the tragedy - whether it was overloading of passengers or the weather," the minister said while countering the allegation that overcrowding was a common practice on ferries in the State.
The Transport Minister also assured the local people of improving on a priority basis the communication infrastructure to Fakirganj, which falls within Jaleswar legislative assembly constituency. "We have already arranged for technically sophisticated motor launches to ply between Dhubri and Fakirganj and the new motor launches will arrive by next week," he said, and added that the government had already sanctioned a bridge over the Brahmaputra to connect Jaleswar and Dhubri. "The construction of the bridge will start soon," he added.
PM announces Rs 2 lakh compensation: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today announced compensation of Rs 200,000 each for the next of kin of deceased in the Assam boat accident that has left nearly 70 people dead and 150 missing.
"The Prime Minister announces an ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of each deceased in yesterday's (Monday) unfortunate boat tragedy in Assam," the Prime Minister's Office tweeted.