When destiny met danger

Tragedy bares safety lapses

By Vijay Deo Jha
  • Published 12.01.17
A policeman inspects Panchghagh Falls in Khunti on Wednesday and  paryatan mitra Durga Bhengra , along with two others, points towards the danger spot where Class IX student Prasoon Chandra drowned on Tuesday. Pictures by Prashant Mitra

Panchghagh Falls in Khunti, 50km from Ranchi where a Class IX Kairali School student, who drowned on Tuesday while playing truant from an exam with five older friends, all six allegedly drunk, wore an alert look on Wednesday.

All 10 paryatan mitras (literally, friends of tourists), local youths trained in swimming and employed by Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation, kept tabs on groups of picnickers. So did 10 constables, a havildar and an assistant sub-inspector deployed on the spot.

Amid the noise of 30 boys and girls dancing to a Nagpuri song, paryatan mitra Anant Kumar's keen eyes spotted two boys walking towards a notified danger spot called Ghansu Dova. Blowing his whistle, Anant shouted: "Can't you see red flag here? Why do you want to die?" The duo scampered away.

It would be erroneous to say that Tuesday's tragedy in which schoolboy Prasoon Chandra (15) drowned occurred entirely due to negligence, paryatan mitras and the police said in unison a day after the drowning tragedy.

On Tuesday, police were busy at Tapkara, 50km from the spot, where rebels had torched Indian Oil machinery. Paryatan mitras were on duty but Panchghagh, which has five falls, is a huge place.

"The boy reached a danger zone called Ranisud, where there is a 12-feet deep gorge, when we were scouting another area of the waterfalls. By the time, I reached it was too late. It took me two hours to recover his body because even a trained swimmer will find it difficult in the rocky gorge with poor visibility," paryatan mitra Durga Bhengra told The Telegraph. "A balloon seller had told me that the boy went under," he added.

Prasoon and his five friends, all school or college boys, drunkenly rode on two bikes to Panchghagh for a fun jaunt in a daring mood, police have said.

A paryatan mitra said it was tough to control such boys as they don't listen to reason.

It may be true. But, Tuesday's incident does not completely exonerate Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation, which looks after Panchghagh, spread across 500 acres of rocky land, and clocking an average daily footfall of over 5,000 on weekdays and over 20,000 on Sunday or on special occasions.

Ten paryatan mitras are hardly enough for a place like Panchghagh. Though 12 district policemen, including 10 constables, a havildar and an ASI, are deployed here to maintain law and order, they don't always remain on the spot always, as Tuesday's Tapkara incident showed.

Danger points are marked by red flags. The tourism corporation has neither barricaded such danger points nor fixed any caution board.

Also, thousands of empty liquor bottles were found at the site though ASI F.P. Choursia claimed regular patrolling was done as a deterrent.

Worst, Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation has not provided paryatan mitras life jackets.

"They are available only during VIP visits. But, they are needed always. At Ghasu Dova, for instance, the gorge is more than 50 feet deep, and even a trained swimmer won't dare jump to rescue without a life jacket," said a paryatan mitra, who added they get Rs 5,800 a month for the dawn-to-dusk job that includes managing parking and crowds and keeping a tab on visitors.

Contacted, director (tourism) Waghmare Prasad Krishna said a committee would be formed to recommend improvements at this waterfall, including cautionary boards, barricades and life jackets.

"The department will hold an in-depth probe into how the boy drowned here. We are also planning increase number of paryatan mitras," he said.

How can Panchghagh be made safer? Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com