GUWAHATI, June 27: Hundreds of passengers daily travel to and from Guwahati in vessels or other types of boats across the Brahmaputra. The moot point is that none of these means of transportation has adequate safety measures. More often than not, the vessels are found to be carrying passengers much beyond their capacity. It has also been reported that the authorities concerned plying the vessels have been regularly flouting the mandatory security measures that should be taken by them.
Against this ominous backdrop, public concern is that the district administration should buckle up its straps and bring about a semblance of decorum insofar as the management of the ghats and the running of the vessels are concerned primarily because the safety angle of passengers is intricately connected with both the managerial issues.
It has also been found that quite often, unsavoury situations evolve between passengers and the people running the show at the ghats after the Inland Water Transport Department (IWTD) authorities have to cancel trips mainly owing to machinery problems of their vessels that are past their prime.
Such a situation happened recently at the Guwahati-Kuruwa ghat at Uzanbazar. The IWTD runs two vessels from this point. To make matters worse, one of them is already down with its engine not working. The remaining vessel also came up with a technical snag.
The main assets of the IWTD are its ships or vessels. But, the fact remains that all of them are of dinosaur age. The present skeletal fleet is being run somehow with ships that urgently require overhaul. As a result, the vessels fail to function necessitating passengers to seek alternative means to travel. Finally they have to take recourse to the arrangement made by the lessees who remain in charge of the overall running of the ghats.
The other side of the story is that the lessees also run their machine boats to ply passengers and goods. Obviously their sole concern is profit.
The crux of the matter is that most of the time these boats remain overcrowded what with many even covering the stretches by occupying spaces on the rooftops of these machine boats.
It is, of course another issue that passengers do choose to travel in a similar mode also in the IWTD vessels.
As per rules, certain mandatory safety measures must be taken prior to the commencement of the trips. Mention may be made of the life jacket that has to be worn by each passenger and the adequate numbers of lifebuoys that must also be assigned to each vessel or boat on each trip.
However, these safety rules have been found to be flouted daily. Though lifebuoys are seen in some of the vessels, but insofar as the life jackets are concerned even the passengers do not agree to wear them, stated a departmental source.
“The life jackets are must for the passengers travelling in the sitting-capacity area which is generally assigned within the vessel. But the public rarely chooses to avail of this facility. They, instead, opt to travel on the deck of the vessels.
"Passengers also appear to be rather choosy (naturally enough) as they feel that in extreme cases they would be able to jump into the Brahmaputra from the deck and swim away to safety,” added the source.
As against this official version, passengers talking to The Sentinel stated otherwise. Paban Kalita, a regular passenger in the Guwahati-Kuruwa route pointed out: “Neither the personnel of the IWTD nor of the lessees did ever inform the passengers about the necessity to wear life jackets.”
Another passenger, Jayanta Deka who usually travels on the Guwahati-North Guwahati stretch quipped: “The personnel never take stock of the sitting capacity or the carrying capacity of the vessels.”
The five ghats in Guwahati which are being run by the lessees are on the following stretches, namely Guwahati-Umananda, Guwahati-Kuruwa, Guwahati-Rajaduwar, Guwahati-Madhyam Khanda, and Guwahati-North Guwahati.
Though the IWTD has five SDBs (Shallow Draft Boats) at the Guwahati-Umananda ghat, only two are in running condition. On the other hand, it runs five vessels from the Guwahati-Rajaduwar ghat, and three each on the Guwahati-Madhyam Khanda as well as the Guwahati-North Guwahati stretch.
A top-level IWTD source pointed out that the district administration should initiate strict measures keeping in view the security of hundreds of passengers who travel on the five circuits daily.