Kolhapur/Sangli: On a day Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his cabinet colleagues Chandrakant Patil, Girish Mahajan and Eknath Shinde conducted an aerial survey of the flood-ravaged Satara and Pune districts, there was depressing news from Sangli, where at least 12 persons drowned in the morning when a rescue boat capsized in the flooded Brahamnal village.
Images of a new-born and her grandmother, who perished, have gone viral on social media, which was nonplussed at the sluggish response of the administration to the initial flooding and its failure to grapple with the humanitarian crisis, despite the boastful claims made by the government about the large-scale evacuation.
The woman was clutching her one-month-old granddaughter, Pillu, with all her strength when the boat overturned; she did her best to save the infant but, sadly, both drowned in the swirling waters. Brahmanal village is on the banks of the river Krishna, which is in spate after the heavy downpour.
Brahmnal village has turned into an islet. For the last two days, villagers had been demanding that the district administration should dispatch a boat but their cries went unheeded.
‘‘We were told by the administration that since our village comes in the backwaters, they could not send a boat. Perforce, the villagers decided to use the boat belonging to the gram panchayat.
It could have accommodated, at best, 18 to 20 persons, but around 30 people had boarded it, unmindful of the consequences. ‘‘Even after the disaster, no help came for several hours,” said Sandip Rajoba, a resident of Brahmanal.
According to another irate resident, the ill-equipped administration had failed to remove even the bodies which were strewn around like carcasses of dogs and cats.
Fadnavis said as per preliminary information, a branch of a submerged tree got entangled in the boat’s engine, causing it to swerve, leading to the tragedy. He tried to visit Brahmanal but his helicopter could not land because of bad weather, the administration claimed.
Asked why boats were not sent to rescue the marooned in the village, he responded: “Rescue operations were on. Some villages came first, others come later.
The gram panchayat of this village had its own boat. As per protocol, priority is given to those villages where people are stranded on roofs of buildings.”
The CM said rescue efforts were continuing on a war footing and reeled out statistics to buttress his point. Over 10,000 rescue officials comprising 13 teams of NDRF, one column of Indian Army, 14 Navy teams, a Coast Guard team and Air Force and local agencies were engaged in the Herculean task.
"We are reaching out to the people. They should not panic. Wherever helicopters can go, they are being sent and more than 60 boats have been deployed in the affected regions," Fadnavis said.
He added that rescue works are hampered as water levels are not receding in most areas. Finally, he spoke with Home Minister Amit Shah and also Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, and the latter has agreed to release 500,000 cusecs water from the Almatty Dam which will bring relief to waterlogging in Sangli." Fadnavis said.
He said as per available information, 223 villages are still flooded and 18 villages are completely submerged in the affected areas. Plus, another around 29,000 people are still marooned in different parts, 9,000 have been rescued so far, and another 97,000 have moved on their own to rescue camps. Around 38,000 flood victims have taken refuge in 152 relief camps set up by the government.
Around 3,900 homes have been damaged or destroyed, over 200,000 people are still without electricity and 390 water supply schemes are inoperative due to floods. Efforts are on to clear the Pune-Bengaluru Highway to enable quicker movement of relief supplies to the regions, he added.