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Gloom over lifeline capsize
- Villages cut off after country boat sinks in the Aie river

Bengtol, July 20: There were no casualties when a country boat capsized in the Aie river this afternoon, as the 20-odd passengers swam to safely. However, the incident has cast a pall of gloom over nearly 75 villages under the Patabari, Ouguri and Nangalbhanga village council development blocks in Chirang district. For the boat was their only mode of transport.

The blocks have a population of around 20,000. The boat was on its way to Ouguri from Bengtol, sinking a motorcycle and 20 bicycles, along with some other articles belonging to the passengers.

“If the boat is not retrieved or a new one brought in, we cannot visit Bengtol from where we get our rations, medicines and almost everything else. The boat is our lifeline and now it has sunk,” lamented 40-year-old Paudur Narzary.

Negotiating the Aie is a task fraught with risks during the monsoon and this year the risks have multiplied, as the river has been in spate after incessant rain. “It’s a job for us. If we don’t do it, the people will be in trouble,” said Nibaran Borgoyary, one of the five boatmen who take turns to ferry the people in the boat, that can carry nearly 25 people.

The five boatmen, all local youths, risk their lives to ferry the people across the river, doing six trips each way through the day. “It’s definitely a risk as you can’t challenge nature. We row with a prayer on our lips every time we cross the river,” said Bujon Basumatary, another boatman, recalling last year’s incident when the boat with passengers had capsized in the strong currents of the river. It was later retrieved. “We had to stop the service for three days because of the current and rising water. We resumed plying only yesterday and this had to happen today,” he said, adding the people will have to face a lot of hardship if a replacement was not arranged soon.

“We don’t have any other alternative. The boat is the only way for us to go to Bengtol, which is the nearest marketplace for our daily needs,” said George Islary, a resident.

The people of the locality rued that the BTC seemed least bothered about their plight. “This is not the first time that the boat has capsized. Last year, too, there was a similar incident. But our leaders or the government did not take steps to solve the problems of the people. We haven’t seen anyone, no leader or government officials visiting the place to take stock of the situation,” Islary said.

For patients and pregnant women, it is living on the edge in these parts.

“The worst comes when we have to take patients, particularly pregnant women, to the hospital. Then prayer is our only strength,” said Govind Basumatary of Ouguri, whose wife delivered a baby girl at their house a few days ago.

Basumatary recalled how he had to call elderly ladies of the village to be midwives and help deliver the baby.

“With no emergency doctor in the village health centre or any means of taking her to the nearest hospital in Bengtol at night, the elderly women were the only alternative,” he said.

Another villager said, “During the day we can at least take the patients to the hospital in Bengtol but come evening, we don’t have any options.”

The two doctors and a nurse at Ouguri health centre are present during the day but they have not been able to attend duty in the last few days because of the floods.