Vadodara boat accident: India schoolchildren were ‘not given life jackets’

A crane pulls out the boat which capsized in Gujarat on Thursday
Image caption,A crane pulls out the boat which capsized in Gujarat on Thursday

By Cherylann Mollan

BBC News, Mumbai

Parents of school students who were on the boat that capsized in a lake in India’s Gujarat state have alleged that their children were “not given life jackets”.

Twelve pupils, aged between seven and 12 years, and two teachers, drowned in the incident on Thursday in Harni Lake in Vadodara city.

Police have arrested two people in connection with the incident.

Search operations are underway to find the remaining victims.

Eighteen students and two teachers have been rescued so far and are undergoing treatment in a nearby hospital, authorities say.

While the cause of the incident is not yet known, eye witnesses say that the boat was packed beyond its capacity of 14 passengers.

The tragic incident has made national headlines, and many parents have accused the authorities of jeopardising their children’s lives by flouting safety norms.

Asma Sheikh, a relative of a rescued student, told BBC Gujarati that despite being told about a picnic and boat ride, school authorities allegedly did not provide life jackets to the students.

Family members react as they reach Harni Lake where a boat carrying children and teachers who were on a picnic capsized in Vadodara, India, January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Image caption,Family members react as they reach Harni Lake where the incident took place

Federal minister Harsh Sanghvi said that only 10 students on the boat were wearing a life jacket, which means that a majority of the passengers were without one.

When BBC Gujarati visited the accident site on Thursday, several parents had gathered near the lake. Many of them questioned why students were allowed to board the boat without adequate safety gear.

“This [incident] is the result of negligence…it has the direct responsibility of the system, the government and the school,” one parent said.

Some parents have alleged that they were not informed about the boat ride, and the incident.

Naushin Gandhi, sister of one of the students who died, told The Times of India newspaper that the school had informed them that the students were going to be taken to a water park, but then took them to a lake instead.

“Since the tragedy, I desperately tried to contact the school authorities but nobody responded,” she alleged.

Some parents alleged that such incidents, which result from the negligence of Gujarat authorities were happening “frequently”.

Members of Vadodara Fire and Emergency Services conduct search and rescue after a boat capsized at Harni Lake in Vadodara on January 18, 2024. At least 10 people, including nine children, drowned when a boat capsized on January 18 in western India, officials said, with a search on to find more of the missing. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Image caption,Rescue operations are underway to find the remaining victims

In October, at least 135 people died after a pedestrian suspension bridge collapsed in Morbi.

Mr Sanghvi has blamed the operator of the boat and contractor for the latest incident and said that it cannot be called a “mistake”.

The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry into the incident and has sought a report within 10 days.

According to local media reports, about 80 students from New Sunrise School had gone on the picnic, and while some students went on the boat ride, others were engaged in other activities.

An official told BBC Gujarati that the boat began to tilt because there was an issue with its “balance” and then tipped over.

Boat accidents are not uncommon in India, where vessels are often overcrowded, poorly maintained and lack safety equipment.

Last year, 22 people died after a boat capsized in India’s southern Kerala state.

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