Lessons of Medartari tragedy not learnt, thousands risk lives every day taking unsafe river ferries
By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, June 5: The Assam government seems to have not learnt any lessons from the tragic Medartari boat mishap of 2012 that claimed over 100 lives.
Three years on, boat operators continue to blatantly violate all safety norms, daily putting in great risk the lives of thousands of passengers using the boat services.
Enforcement of norms and regulations has been utterly lax, with the regulators passing the buck unto each other.
Recently, an inspection was carried out at the Rajaduar Ghat in Guwahati by a joint team comprising officials from the district administration, Inland Water Transport and other departments.
All the 23 engine-fitted mechanized boats inspected were found to be lacking the requisite safety norms. None of them had renewed their licenses – some had last renewed it in 1997.
Neither was there any life saving equipment in any of the boats nor had they vehicular platforms. “Prime facie, none of the boats were fit for use,” said an official who inspected the boats.
When asked, Additiol Deputy Commissioner Rajeev Prakash Baruah did not divulge much details, but said a report has been submitted to the State government after the inspection.
The Inland Water Transport (IWT), responsible for regulating the boat and ferry services, says it is not equipped with the required technical staff to examine the safety of boats. The river police also claims shortage of staff to monitor the boat services.
Annually, 365 lakh passengers use the boat and ferry services in the State.
Official data on deaths in India due to untural causes indicate that the number of people drowning in boat capsizes every year is invariably high. From around 550 in 2002, the annual number has crossed the 800 mark five times since then, and 900 three times. The figure for 2012 was 668.
A one man inquiry committee, constituted after the Medartari boat mishap, had pointed out that there is no boat traffic monitoring system in the State. It also noted the lack of weather forecasting and warning system, but the recommendations failed to grab the attention of the State government.
The IWT department has around 5,000 staff, but majority of them are non-technical, and thus ill-equipped to enforce regulations.
The inquiry committee had also stated that laws like Inland Vessels Act are not being implemented even though the legislations, most of which are of British era, have become archaic.
Suggestions of the committee like setting up river-based water wings in select districts and deployment of fast moving river crafts in vulnerable areas have been so far ignored by the State government.