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Rail finger at tour agency

Sept. 16: A Chennai-based travel agency had hired the boats one of which capsized in a river in South 24-Parganas killing at least nine people yesterday, officials of the railway unit conducting the nationwide tour claimed today.

Yesterday, Amlan Biswas, the eastern zone group general manager of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, had said the IRCTC had hired the boat that sank in the Muriganga river in Kakdwip.

“Apparently, the main ferry service to Sagar Islands was unavailable. So the private agency had hired the mechanised boats. IRCTC officials were accompanying the tourists,” Biswas said today. The agency had been given the charge of conducting sightseeing for the pilgrims.

Three bodies were recovered from the river today. Anita Negi, a resident of Varanasi, is still missing. Her husband Kumar Singh said: “A fisherman rescued me.”

The Border Security Force, Indian Navy and the Coast Guard are conducting rescue operations.

While the body of a woman was found in the morning, two more bodies, those of a man and a woman, were spotted in the afternoon by a Coast Guard chopper 15km from the jetty near which the accident took place. They are yet to be identified.

Three of the five persons injured in the accident have been admitted to the intensive critical care unit of BR Singh Hospital at Sealdah. The rest have been released.

“We had feared a much higher death toll. But eight persons, including four children, were rescued late last night,” said D.K. Nandan, the subdivisional officer of Kakdwip. He said police would probe why mechanised boats, instead of bigger passenger vessels, had been hired.

The accident had happened after the boat carrying 72 pilgrims capsized just before reaching the jetty. The victims were part of a 225-strong group criss-crossing the country as part of an IRCTC-conducted tour, named Bharat Darshan.

Lucknow resident Omkar Dube, a retired government employee, said: “I fell into the river with my two sisters, elder brother and his wife. One of my sisters, Kamala Ojha, has died.”

Another among the dead has been identified as Rubi Paul, a 23-year-old graduate from Lucknow. Her family said she had undertaken the tour to visit the Sunderbans and Puri. Her parents have left for Calcutta.

The tour, however, will continue. Several of the tourists today left on train from Santragachi. “The train will continue its journey to Varanasi and Allahabad. However, we’ll make arrangements for those who want to return home,” said Rakesh Tandon, managing director, IRCTC.

The IRCTC said it had no plans of shelving Bharat Darshan. “The next tour, which will be to south India, will start as per schedule on September 26,” said K.M. Cariappa, additional general manager, public relations, IRCTC.

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