Kerala boat tragedy: Police form SIT; HC initiates suo motu PIL, seeks report from district collector

DGP Anil Kant issued an order naming Malappuram district police chief as SIT head, according to an official statement.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 09, 2023 | 2:16 PM Updated May 09, 2023 | 5:15 PM

Kerala Boat tragedy

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted by the Kerala police on Tuesday, 9 May, to probe the tragic boat mishap which claimed 22 lives in the Tanur area of Malappuram district on Sunday evening.

DGP Anil Kant issued an order saying Malappuram District Police Chief Sujith Das S will head the team, according to an official statement.

Related: 22, including 7 children, dead as overcrowded tourist boat capsizes

14 member SIT

Tanur DYSP VV Benny, Tanur Station House Officer (SHO) Jeevan George, and Kondotty ASP Vijay Bharat Reddy are the other members of the special investigation team.

The SIT comprises a total of 14 members.

The probe would be held under the direct supervision of Neeraj Kumar Gupta, IG, North Zone, the statement said.

The DGP directed the SIT to complete the probe and submit a report at the earliest.

While announcing a judicial probe into the tragedy on Monday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also said that an SIT of the Kerala police would also probe the matter.

Related: Kerala mourns the dead as boat tragedy decimates families

‘Hearts are bleeding’

Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court termed the boat accident as “shocking” and “haunting”, and initiated a PIL on its own to find out why the authorities allowed the vessel to operate while allegedly flouting rules.

A bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Shoba Annamma Eapen said their “hearts are bleeding” and they “underwent sleepless nights” after seeing the lifeless bodies of the children.

The court said the accident happened as a result of “the deadly cocktail of callousness, greed and official apathy”.

The court said it was initiating the petition on its own to ensure that such an incident does not happen ever again.

The bench noted that such boating tragedies were happening in the state with “frightening regularity” since 1924, when Kerala lost Mahakavi Kumaran Asan, one of the triumvirate of poets of Kerala, when a boat from Kollam to Kottayam sank at Palana.

The court also directed the district collector to file a preliminary report of the incident by Friday.

It verbally noted that compensation should be extracted from the officials responsible for the incident.

Also read: Scenic views hide impending death of placid Vembanad lake

Boat owner to be produced before court

The police have imposed murder charges against the boat owner.

Sujith Das S, who is heading the probe, said the investigation was progressing, considering it a murder case.

“So, we will submit a report in court as an offence under IPC 302,” the officer told reporters.

He said the police were yet to confirm the total number of staff, who were present in the boat when tragedy struck.

“Its driver, Dineshan, is absconding. We are trying to get more details about the other employees from the owner.

Their arrest will be made in the coming days,” the officer added.

The boat owner MK Nasar, who was arrested from Tanur on Monday, was scheduled to be produced before the Parappanangadi First Class Magistrate court in Malappuram on Tuesday.

Earlier, his medical check-up was conducted at the Tanur Taluk Hospital.

Even though there were reports that he would be brought to Tanur police station, he was taken to Malappuram police station for fear of public outrage.

The Srank (Captain) of the boat, Dinesan, and an employee, Rajan, are still absconding. It is believed that they fled from the accident spot soon after the boat capsized.

According to reports, the SIT will be seeking the custody of Nasar to probe how he obtained the illegal permit for the boat, and other questions such as why the boat continued its service that late.

Search and rescue ops continue

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), which was deployed for search and rescue operations in connection with the boating tragedy, continued to look for victims on the river bed on Tuesday in view of doubts over the exact number of people on the vessel.

Several bystanders and some of the survivors have claimed that the actual number of passengers may have been more than declared as it was the last trip of the boat and as a result a lot of people had boarded the vessel.

“As a matter of abundant caution, the NDRF is carrying out search operations on the river,” a police officer told PTI.

The recreational boat capsized near an estuary close to the Thoovaltheeram beach in the Tanur area around 7.30 pm on Sunday.

According to district officials, 15 of the deceased were minors aged eight months to 17 years, and there were 37 persons onboard the ill-fated boat.

In all, 12 members of a family were among the 22 people killed.

(With PTI inputs)