Santipur, Oct. 13: 18 students were rescued by a combined team of National Disaster Response Force and Civil Defence personnel on Friday evening after they remained trapped on a boat on a canal of the river Hooghly in Nadia’s Santipur for about nine hours since the morning as dense patches of water hyacinth suffocated the river surface blocking their movement.
The students aged between six and 14, who read between class V and VIII and hail from Char Panpara, Khounishnagar, Kaldanga, and Krishnadevpur villages, were on their way to school in Bagh Anchra on the other side of the bank.
Sources said that at least four students fell sick due to the scorching temperature and thirst, while residents and their parents watched helplessly throughout the day as no boat could make their way to reach them due to the dense weeds that remained immovable for months apparently due to sheer apathy of the district administration that never bothered to clear it. Unfortunately enough all the students failed to appear in their class test that was scheduled on the day.
There were also at least 8 other persons on the boat including the boatman, who also suffered the same problem and was rescued.
A total of 26 passengers of the boat could eventually be rescued at about 6.30 pm – after three hours of rigorous efforts by Civic Defence and NDRF personnel who created a passage through the floating weeds to reach the trapped boat. BDO Santipur Md Sabbir Ahmad Molla monitored the entire rescue operation at the spot.
A large number of people and students who live on the other side of the canal regularly cross the 400-meter stretch of the canal known as ‘Chari-Ganga’ to reach their destinations, which largely remained suffocated throughout the year due to the thick cover of water hyacinth infested over an area of about 2 square kilometer stretch of the canal.
As a result for a major part of the year crossing the canal used to become a difficult task for them as it generally takes more than two hours to reach the Bagh Anchra ghat – the gateway to the Santipur town on a boat making way through the dense weeds. Avoiding the canal is a costly alternative as one has to detour about 11 km by road to reach Santipur town.
Water hyacinth is an invasive fast-growing aquatic weed that surfaces on water bodies and forms daughter plants, which can reproduce thousands of seeds to remain viable for over 20 years.
To reach destinations in time people regularly leave home at least two hours in advance to avoid losing time being trapped while crossing the canal.
On Friday the 18 students, left home well in advance but were trapped by dense weeds at about 9.30 a.m. barely within 150 meters away from the bank.
Ashim Hazra, father of Shreya Hazra, a trapped student of class V said, “Every day I leave my daughter at the Char Panpara ghat at 9 am so that she can teach school on time. But on many occasions, she fails to reach in time due to the indefinite journey time. I don’t know when this woe would end”.
Villagers alleged that their children often abstain from school in fear of missing the boat in the evening as boatmen stop service in fear of being trapped amid the darkness.
On several occasions villagers have appealed before the district administration and even before Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for a permanent solution to clear Hyacinth weeds or to make Foot Bridge over the canal. But none of the demand has materialized so far except for some surveys to examine the feasibility of the construction of Foot Bridge.
“The Hyacinth and the negligence of the administration that never bothered to find out a solution have become a threat to the life of around ten thousand people”, Bappa Hazra a villager told The NfN.
A senior official of Nadia Zilla parishad said, “A footbridge is not feasible since it can only be done for a maximum 50-meter stretch. We are trying to find ways to meet budgetary requirements for regular cleaning of hyacinth”.
“There was earlier a provision for cleaning hyacinth under central aided schemes, but the present government has withdrawn it. We are, however, consulting the fisheries department if they undertake a project to clean the canal even though senior officials of state administration think that such cleaning is a misuse of public money as hyacinth grows again and again”, the official added.
Speaking to The NfN, Nadia DM S.Arun Prasad said, “We were today focused on the rescue operation. We will talk about the technicalities with the concerned departments to find out the cause of growths of the hyacinth and recommend further initiatives for its cleaning examining the feasibilities”.