The Gujarat police have arrested six persons in connection with the boat tragedy near Vadodara that killed 12 students and two teachers, an official said on Friday.
Eighteen students and two teachers were rescued from the boat capsize in Harni lake on the outskirts of Vadodara city on Thursday. The students were on a picnic at the time.
Those arrested include three partners of Kotia Projects, a firm that had been given the contract to operate Harni Lake Zone by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, a police official said.
The others who have been arrested comprise a manager of Kotia Projects and two boat operators, and all have been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Vadodara police commissioner Anupam Singh Gehlot said.
On Thursday, the police had registered an FIR under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) of the Indian Penal Code against 18 persons.
The arrested persons have been identified as Kotia Projects partners Bhimsingh Yadav, Vedprakash Yadav and Rashmikant Prajapati, the firm's manager Shantilal Solanki and boat operators Nayan Gohil and Ankit Vasava, as per police.
"We have formed a special investigation team (SIT) in connection with the incident and to nab other culprits. Those guilty will not be spared," Gehlot said.
The seven-member SIT will be led by Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime and Traffic), Manoj Ninama, while other members include Deputy Commissioner of Police Panna Momaya, DCP Yuvrajsinh Jadeja and ACP HA Rathod, the official said.
Following the incident, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation sealed the lake area and prohibited the entry of unauthorised persons as well as those associated with the contracting firm.
As per the FIR, Kotia Projects was given the contract by VMC to operate the Harni Lake Zone in 2017.
In his complaint, VMC engineer Rajesh Chauhan said the firm, its owners, managers and boat operators indulged in criminal negligence on several counts, be it non-maintenance of boats or not keeping adequate number of life-saving equipment and life jackets.
It was also revealed that only a few students were given life jackets and no instructions were given to them, as per the complaint.
Due to overload, the FIR said, the boat first started swaying and then capsized following water ingress from the front side.
Incidentally, on Thursday, Gujarat Minister of State for Home Sanghavi had told reporters only 10 students on board were wearing life jackets, which proved the organisers were at fault.
Gujarat Education Minister Kuber Dindor too had said the boat was carrying more persons than the stipulated number.
I have also learnt students were not wearing life jackets at the time of the accident. We will take action against those found guilty (of these lapses), Dindor had said on Thursday night.
A preliminary probe by authorities also revealed the boat, which was pulled out from the muddy waters, had only 14 seats, while more than 30 persons were on board.
On Thursday, a notification issued by the state home department directed the Vadodara collector to conduct a detailed inquiry on reasons and circumstances which led to the tragedy, whether there was any negligence on the part of the contractor or any official and how such incidents can be avoided in the future.
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel had visited the site late on Thursday evening and toured Janvi Hospital and state-run SSG Hospital to meet survivors and kin of the deceased.
The CM had also announced compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of those who have died and Rs 50,000 to the injured.
In a message on social media platform X some time after the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, Distressed by the loss of lives to a boat capsizing at the Harni lake in Vadodara. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of grief. May the injured recover soon.
The local administration is providing all possible assistance to those affected. An ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of each deceased. The injured would be given Rs 50,000, the PM had further said.