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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 19 June 2024

Amid Ram temple euphoria, child deaths in Vadodara raise questions on Gujarat's safety standards

Less than 15 months ago, on October 30, 2022, another tragedy happened at Morbi, Gujarat. A newly renovated pedestrian suspension bridge collapsed, claiming the lives of 141 people, including 55 children. More than 100 people were injured

Mehul Devkala Vadodara Published 27.01.24, 06:46 AM
A crane pulls out the boat that capsized in the lake in Vadodara on January 18.

A crane pulls out the boat that capsized in the lake in Vadodara on January 18. Reuters file picture

It was a chilly evening in Vadodara on January 18; all was passing routinely until news of a boat tragedy broke from the Harni area of the city.

Twelve children, mostly under the age of 10, who had gone on a school picnic had drowned in a boat accident in the lake zone.

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Until then, the city was in a festive mood, clad in saffron and eagerly waiting for the “Pran Pratistha of Ram Lalla”, scheduled in Ayodhya on January 22.

But the sun had set forever on the lives of the 12 families that had lost their lallas and ladlis in the tragedy. Two teachers, too, died in the boat disaster.

Asiya Khalifa, 11, was born to her parents after 17 years of marriage. Her cousin Rayan Khalifa, a year younger than her, too lost his life. The Khalifa family is shattered.

Alisabanu, 9, can be seen waving the national flag to the song Sare Jahan Se Achha in a video that surfaced after her death in the boat tragedy.

Sakina, 9, had made a video on what turned out to be the last morning of her life, in excited anticipation of the picnic. “It’s going to be a very special day,” were her words.

Five families lost their only child in the boat disaster.

The administration has been in the so-called “action mode”, as is likely after any such tragedy.

However, it’s come out that the boat carried double its capacity and that the children were without life jackets. There were no lifeguards. The boat had allegedly not been maintained properly.

Neither the people managing the lake zone nor government officials had bothered to check for the minimum safety standards, reports said.

It is even more shocking that this place had been opened to the public only last year. Everyone was at fault.

Less than 15 months ago, on October 30, 2022, another tragedy happened at Morbi, Gujarat. A newly renovated pedestrian suspension bridge collapsed, claiming the lives of 141 people, including 55 children. More than 100 people were injured.

Here, too, the spotlight was on alleged safety and security lapses on the part of the company that held the contract and the administration, which had failed to ensure proper audits and checks.

There was a litany of charges: too many people were allowed on the bridge, substandard material had been used in the renovation, and the like.

Government officials never cease to surprise us with their lack of due diligence when manmade tragedies happen.

Not so long ago, on May 24, 2019 — again in the “most progressive” state of Gujarat, this time in Surat — a fire broke out at an illegally constructed tuition class and claimed the lives of 22 students. Many were injured.

Fire safety measures had not been in place at this illegally run tuition class in the heart of the city. Who were the culprits? Again, the administration at large.

Has the Gujarat government learnt any lessons from these tragedies? Is it keen to change its de facto standard of never-ending safety negligence?

Will the culprits be put behind bars irrespective of their connections? And, most important, how will the government ensure the safety of ordinary citizens?

These questions remain unanswered. The people of Gujarat lost their appetite long ago to question the ruling dispensation.

Just two days after the boat tragedy, my city immersed itself in euphoria. Right in front of the lake zone where 12 innocent children had drowned in the cold water, vehicles played celebratory DJ music.

The city witnessed firecrackers lighting up the sky as though it was Diwali. The families of the dead children were left in the darkness with their personal sorrows.

Mahatma Gandhi had, as conscience keeper of our nation and society, things to say on corruption in public life.

A speech that his secretary Pyarelal read out for him at a prayer meeting on January 26, 1948 --- a day of silence for the Mahatma --- went: “Corruption will go when the large numbers of persons given to the unworthy practice realise that the nation does not exist for them but that they do for the nation. It requires a high code of morals, extreme vigilance on the part of those who are free from corrupt practice and who have influence over corrupt servants. Indifference in such matters is criminal.”

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