Death of Gal Constructor: ‘They took our son’s body by mistake, we didn’t even get his ashes’
A year after three barges – P 305, Support Station 03 and Gal Constructor – and the Varaprada tug towing Gal Constructor, drifted into the Arabian Sea after being caught in Cyclone Tauktae, nine of the 86 bodies recovered from the sea still remain unidentified. For their families, there was no closure.
One such Punjab family lost their 23-year-old son, Baljinder Singh, who died along with 75 others on board barge P 305 which sank on May 17 last year. By mistake, Singh’s body was taken away by another family, who also lost their relative in the tragedy, and performed their last rites.
Baljinder, from a small village near Amritsar, worked as a rigger and foreman on the P 305, which sank about 30 nautical miles (about 50 km) from the Mumbai shore after hitting an oil rig.
In addition to 75 people on board the P 305, 11 other people on board the Varaprada tug died. The P 305 and the Varaprada had sunk and could not be recovered. A massive salvage operation was undertaken by the Navy and Coast Guard for the bodies.
As the recovery of all the bodies took several days, the bodies decayed beyond recognition. Additionally, while 86 people were dead, the police and navy recovered more than 90 bodies in the sea and on the coast of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Baljinder was one of them.
His father Bagicha Singh and his maternal uncle Karamjeet Singh toured the autopsy center at JJ Hospital in Mumbai but were unable to claim his body pending a DNA match.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Karamjeet said: ‘At that time I was working on another barge but our barge came back safely…At the autopsy center I identified Baljinder’s body but I wasn’t sure due to the extent of the breakdown. The first two DNA tests with samples from his father and brother didn’t match 100%, so we couldn’t claim his body. Then the police took the DNA sample from his mother.
Meanwhile, the Meghwal family of Pali in Rajasthan claimed Baljinder’s body. They were convinced that it was their son Amraram.
About 15 days later, the DNA report from Baljinder’s mother matched her samples.
Karamjeet then contacted the Meghwal family and was informed that they had already performed the last rites and scattered the ashes in Haridwar.
An officer from Yellow Gate Police Station said: “The Rajasthani family were convinced that it was their relative and so we allowed them to take the body. Later, the DNA sample taken from a family member matched another body at the autopsy center. The family then returned and took the second body for the last rites.
Karamjeet said: “’They took our son’s body by mistake, we didn’t even get his ashes… What can we do now? We forgave them and moved on.
“Our family has only received Rs 7 lakh in compensation so far. We were promised somewhere around Rs 40 lakh. Baljinder’s mother, Sarjeet Kaur, cannot walk properly since learning the death of his son,” he added.
Kishore Ranawt, a relative of the Meghwal family, declined to comment on the case.
The Indian Express had reported how the family had identified Baljinder’s body as that of Amraram Meghwal. Amraram’s brother, Papuram Meghwal, also a welder, died in the accident. His body was identified in front of him.