Fire dept was too low on battery for rescue effort

While attempts to trace the one-and-a-half-year old girl who was swept away by flood waters near the Katraj tunnel at Shindewadi on Thursday are ongoing, it has emerged that the fire brigade department was ill-equipped to conduct the search and rescue operation on the day of the incident.

According to sources, on Thursday, the Katraj fire department had a power cut and hence the team arrived at the spot with lights that were not fully charged, which conked off after an hour and a half. Moreover, the inverter facility, which can charge batteries when there is no power, is out of order and has not been used at the fire station since long.

Questions are now being raised about the Rs 32 crore expenditure on high-tech equipment in the last financial year, when basic facilities such as inverter or generator backup are missing.

The 30-year-old woman and her infant daughter were swept away during flash rain on Thursday at NH 04 highway. Three other occupants of the car they were in scurried to safety, after the vehicle was pulled in by the waters near Katraj Tunnel.

The fire brigade team stopped its operations late in the night after losing battery. The woman’s body was traced by local residents on Friday. However, the body of the baby girl remains untraceable.

“Due to failure of equipment, fire brigade personnel had to stop their efforts. They were helpless. So we made the efforts to find the body,” said Raj Jaju, a local resident.

Sanjay Ramteke, a fire brigade officer from Katraj, said, “Inverter facility at the station is not working for a long time, so like others we also have to face outages. Due to heavy rains we were conducting rescue operations in other parts of the city where batteries have been used. In the absence of electricity on the day of the incident we couldn’t charge our battery. That is why it was exhausted during the search operations in Shindewadi.”

According to the sources, for such search manoeuvres, fire brigade has two rescue vans, which have specialised lights. But currently one of the vans is not in use, while the other has some technical problems. “Some trees got uprooted on the day of the mishap, and the van was engaged in those operations,” Ramteke added.

Along with the fire brigade, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and local police were searching for the baby yesterday. Alok Avasthy, commandant of the Talegaon-based fifth battalion of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said that a 35-member team has been pressed into service after getting a call from the district administration around 2 pm on Sunday. “The team is yet to trace the child. Water has receded and only debris is left in the field. It’s raining in the area, which is hampering the search operation. If she is not found tonight, we will continue the operation on Monday as well,” Avasthy added. 

Bane of illegal construction
Meanwhile, to discuss the problem of illegal construction around that tunnel, Dilip Bhujbal, SP (Highways), is going to meet district collector Vikas Deshmukh today. “We have surveyed the area and come up with some proposals, which we will present during the meeting.  People having plots at Ramdara near the tunnel have stopped natural flow of water, which is causing a major problem. We propose to acquire that land if necessary and make the provision for water flow.  Proper action should be taken against illegal encroachments of the hill. There are many loopholes in the NH 04 expansion work. Many subcontractors are involved in the work and nobody is ready to take responsibility.”       

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