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Residents recall memory of PM Morarji Desai’s plane crash, seek area’s development

File photo of the crashed plane.
 DERGAON, Sept 20 - Thogeswar Borah, a septuagenarian of Tekelagaon popularly known as ‘Desai Nagar’, 19 km off Dergaon town clearly recalls how he and his fellow villagers saved the life of India’s fourth Prime Minister Morarji Desai in 1977. Borah narrated how he and along with three others shifted Desai from a paddy field near a jungle after the PM’s plane had crashed at Tekelagaon in Jorhat district on November 4, 1977 at around 7.30 pm.

 In the accident, five pilots of the IAF had died and the Prime Minister had received injuries. The plane which had to land at Rowriah Airport crashed in a jungle due to bad weather. The villagers who had assembled at the hut of late Tarun Chutia, a teacher to hear the speech of the PM on the sole radio in the village, came to the crash site with jur (firelight on a piece of bamboo) as the night was dark and rainy. They found that the plane ‘TU 124 Jet, D 643’ of the Indian Air Force (bought in 1966), which had taken off from Palam airport of Delhi crashed near their village. The five dead pilots were Wing Commander Clarence D’ Lima, Wing Commander Joginder Singh, Squadron Leader Mathew Cyriac, Squadron Leader VVS Sankar and Flight Lieutenant OP Arora. However, the Prime Minister, his son Kantilal Desai, the then Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Prem Khandu Thungan, Director of Intelligence Bureau John Lobo and journalist Madhavan Kutty were found safe. Later, the PM along with the others were admitted to the Air Force Hospital, Jorhat.

The PM after having been sworn into office on March 24, 1977 was scheduled to address a public meeting as a part of his six-day-long North East tour. Though a large gathering had gathered to see and hear the PM but it had to leave the Judge Field, the meeting venue as Desai did not reach the site till dark.

Talking to this correspondent, Thogeswar Borah said that the Prime Minister was taken to the hut of late Indreswar Baruah near the crash site and was seated on a broken chair. The villagers along with Baruah treated the Prime Minister with local herbal medicines.

“Led by late Indreswar Baruah, late Punaram Senapati, late Lalit Baruah, we tried our level best to help the PM and the others,” Borah said.

On the direction of the Prime Minister, two persons went to the airport, 12 km off, in the only vehicle of late Tarun Chutia. However, due to a mechanical fault in the vehicle, the two of them had to go to the airport on bicycles. Borah said that they were later gifted bicycles by Desai while late Indreswar Baruah was given Rs 1500.

After returning from Jorhat, Desai wrote a letter to late Indreswar Baruah on December 24, 1977 acknowledging the voluntary support and hospitality offered to him along with the other villagers. The Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh also wrote a letter to Tilok Baruah on December 16, 1977 citing the assistance offered by the villagers.

Though the villagers have kept the memory of the incident alive, but are disappointed over the government’s apathy to construct a memorial site or develop the area as a source of rural tourism.

Dipen Boruah, the youngest son of late Indreswar Baruah said that they were ready to offer land if the government expresses any desire to construct a memorial site.

He also acknowledged the financial assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh for the treatment of his father by the Central government provided by the then DC of Jorhat Dr Ravi Kota in 2001.

It may be mentioned here that the sons of late Indreswar Baruah, late Punaram Senapati, late Lalit Baruah and Thogeswar Borah are jobless and await the opportunity of getting a government job.

Fuleswar Chutia, a resident of the village said that only electricity and a post office were gifted to the village after the incident. “The only hospital announced to be constructed at the village is still a far cry. The roads and other means of commuication are also in a sorry state”, a villager said.

“Though the village was renamed as Desai Nagar, no permanent development has been seen till date,” another resident said.

Ravindran Pothalat, a trainee pilot who had come along with the passengers of the plane and had survived the crash, while visiting the site in 2017 had expressed concern that the site had not been developed even after such a long period.

The villagers now hope that their village will be transformed into a model village and developed as a rural tourism hub by the government.

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