The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fingers at foresters after trawler tragedy

Nov. 14: The few fishermen who survived Tuesday’s cyclone and returned home from the high seas today recounted a horror tale of how forest guards on an island refused to allow several boats enter a creek and virtually drove them away at gunpoint.

The boats, allegedly forced to return to a raging sea from the creek adjoining Jambudwip, capsized after futile efforts to find shelter elsewhere.

Sundarbans bio-sphere reserve director A.K. Raha, however, called the allegations “absurd”. “The forest guards have never done such a thing, a silly allegation indeed,” said Raha. He added that the guards chase people away only if they are there to encroach on forest land.

“They were unarmed and there is a police camp at the spot,” Raha said.

However, the chief of the National Fishworkers’ Forum, Harekrishna Debnath, said a fishing boat, Jyotirmoyee, and two others had capsized. “I have first hand information from the skipper of Jyotirmoyee, Lakshmi Kanta Das, who narrated the inhuman behaviour of the forest guards,” Debnath said.

The body of one of the Jyotirmoyee fishermen, Ratan Das, was found floating off the Kakdwip coast today.

Debnath said 51 fishermen have died at sea and 11 boats capsized.

At Digha, the allegations were relayed to fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda. He refused to comment.

Nanda, who is staying back at Digha for updates on the missing trawlers, said the Centre was to be blamed for the unfinished work on wireless stations at Frazergunge and Shankarpur.

“The contract was awarded to a firm from Punjab way back in 1996 but barring two towers, there are no equipment. We will complete the job on our own,” Nanda said.

Rescued fisherman Pradip Bag sobbed while recounting to Nanda how he had to let go of younger brother Sanjay when their boat sank. Pradip is the sole survivor of the trawler, Ma Taramoyee, which had 16 men on board.

The Coast Guard scanned the sea today with two Dornier aircraft and its vessel, Sucheta Kripalini, for the trawlers that were reported missing after the cyclone lashed the coasts of East Midnapore and the Sundarbans.

A list released by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings said 113 fishermen and 14 trawlers are still missing.

The trawlers that sailed for the high seas from South-24 Parganas were identified as Debi Chandika, Abhimanyu, Ma Mahamaya and Madina. Three trawlers that sailed from Howrah on Tuesday — Ma Kamalamoyee, Purnalakshmi and New Ma Kamala — were also reported missing.

Bhattacharjee said: “Many of those who were reported missing yesterday were rescued. These fishermen had set sail much before the government issued the cyclone warning.”

The missing trawlers from East Midnapore are Chintamoni, Baba Saheb 5, Mani Kanchan, Super-cyclone, Ma Bhabani, Baba Satyanarayan and Haripriya.

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