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Tekelagaon residents construct bhelaghar in the form of a crashed aircraft

The house of Late Indeswar Baruah at Tekelagaon and (right) the aeroplane-shaped bhelaghar. – Photos: Jorhat Staff Correspondent
 TEKELAGAON (JORHAT), Jan 10 - The villagers of this non-descript hamlet on the south-west outskirts here – about 16 km from the town – for the first time have decided to celebrate Magh Bihu together with all 300 families joining hands for the purpose.

They have constructed a bhelaghar for the occasion at the paddy field (Bumpathar) in the shape of an aeroplane. The village is under Khongia GP of Dergaon Assembly seat under Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituency and is adjacent to the Jorhat IAF station at Rowriah.

Designing the bhelaghar like an aircraft is not because of any fancy imaginative idea or to make the traditional structure look unusual. The reason is to commemorate an incident that occurred 40 years back which had pitchforked this village into the limelight not only in Assam but across India. On November 4, 1977 at around 6.45 pm, an aircraft carrying the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, crash-landed on this paddy field. The bhelaghar, made from straw and bamboo, has been built at the very spot where the plane crashed.

Former Arunachal Chief Minister, PK Thungon, former Intelligence Bureau chief John Lobo and Morarji Desai’s son Kanti Desai were also on board the plane, TU-124 jet V-643 Pushpak (a gift from Russia to Jawaharlal Nehru). All of them along with a then trainee navigator of the IAF with the surname Ravindran survived the crash, but the five pilots belonging to the elite communications squadron of the IAF flying the plane were killed.

Villagers led by Indeswar Baruah (who died about four years ago), whose house was the nearest to the crash site had rescued Desai and others from the aircraft and brought them to their home and offered whatever first aid they could provide. Morarji Desai along with several other VVIPs sitting on chairs inside an ordinary farmer’s house was something unbelievable for the entire villagers. The accident had drawn large crowds with people from the town and adjoining areas and also from other parts of the State visiting the crash site.

Nabin Baruah, a farmer and the elder son of Indeswar, who is the president of the organising committee formed to celebrate Bhogali Bihu by the villagers, said the aim of designing the bhelaghar like the crashed plane was to recollect the incident where a prime minister had survived after villagers rescued him and others.

“With passage of time, the incident seems to be fading into oblivion as except the villagers (many of those who had witnessed the accident have already died), nobody remembers it and there is no effort by the Government to record the incident by way of building any structure at the crash site,” Nabin said. He said the village has not witnessed any major developmental schemes or projects even though there were promises by the Government officials after the accident.

Nabin, who was two years at the time of the mishap, said electricity connection, a post office and a heath sub-centre (in lieu of a demand for a hospital) were among the “benefits” which the village got within 15 years after the crash. He said these three things came earlier to Tekelagaon compared to other adjoining villages. Nabin added that a bicycle for his father and three other villagers who took active part in the rescue effort, were other “rewards” that the villagers received.

In 2003, due to the initiative of the then Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Dr Ravi Kota, who wrote to the PMO about the plight of Indeswar Baruah, who was suffering from multiple ailments and having two unemployed sons, the family received Rs 1.5 lakh for Indeswar’s medical expenses.

Nabin said on December 17, 2017 the villagers in a meeting formed a committee under the name of ‘Pradhan Mantri Biman Durghatona Smriti Raksha Sanrakshan Samity’ with Dr Kota (now Principal Secretary), Dergaon MLA Bhaben Bharali and the Jorhat DC Virendra Mittal and several reputed people as advisers. Sailendra Nath Bora, a retired AAU employee, who is an adviser of the Samity, said the committee has been formed to keep alive the memories of the incident by the Government and by the local people. Bora said the Samity will organise a open public meeting on January 14 at the paddy field where Government officials and eminent citizens will be invited to discuss about ways to be adopted to not let the incident be forgotten.

He said a decision may be taken to approach the Government to construct a structure at the crash site where the details of the crash could be put up to inform visitors and about ways to promote the place as a tourist spot.

Lohit Bora, a Government employee, and an adviser of the Samity, said that in November 2017, the then trainee navigator Ravindran who has now retired from the IAF and had a narrow escape from the crash, came from Kerala to see the village. Bora said Ravindran got emotional after visiting Tekelagaon and interacting with the villagers. He said that Ravindran hoped that some steps would be taken to remember the incident.

Manumati Bora, wife of Indeswar, has preserved the letters written by Morarji Desai and secretary to Thungon, thanking the family for their efforts in rescuing them and hospitality shown.

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