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Kerala boat mishap: An eye-opener
February 21, 2007 16:25 IST
The boat capsize that claimed 18 lives has brought into focus loopholes in water transport safety in Kerala and the degradation of rivers.
Though the exact causes that led to the tragedy are yet to be ascertained, it is evident from the statements of survivors that the boat was in an unfit condition. Some children who escaped from the boat that capsized told media persons that they saw water entering through a leak in the vessel's planks when it was in the middle of a reservoir near Thattekadu bird sanctuary.
According to sources in the Inspectorate of Boats at Alappuzha, there are about 2,000 boats operating at tourist centres in Kerala and half of them do not have proper licences.
The Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing technical parameters for inland vessels, while the canal department monitors cruise boats. But both departments lack sufficient mechanisms, logistical support and staff to enforce rules and regulations, sources told PTI.
In the water-logged Kuttanad area in Alappuzha district, fast emerging as a tourist destination, 12 people, including a foreign national have drowned in separate incidents since last year, the sources said.
The financial and political clout of boat-owners and tour operators also come in the way of strict enforcement of rules, they alleged.
Overloading is often a prime cause of boat mishaps, including the Kumarakom ferry tragedy in 2002 that claimed 30 lives. Rules insist that a one-ton vessel is to carry only two persons. Based on this norm, the capacity of different type of boats is fixed.
Even basic stipulations that all boats should have safety devices like lifebuoys, life-jackets and fire buckets are flouted.
Though the government promised to strengthen measures after the Kamarakom tragedy, it largely remained a 'writ-on- water' that was limited in the case of state-run ferry services, the sources said.
"We tend to ignore isolated cases. We wake up to the reality only when a major tragedy happens. It is time that the rules are revised and enforcement is strengthened. This is crucial as water tourism is becoming a major source of income for the state," an official in the Inspectorate said.
Unrestricted river-sand mining is also a big threat to Kerala's rivers and backwaters. Besides ecological consequences, it contributes to water mishaps, especially drowning cases.
According to river protection campaigner K N Sukumaran Nair, there were reports of sand-miners laying tugs across rivers and reservoirs for their movement. This could pose a big threat to boats whose propellers could hit the spikes stuck for laying the ropes.
The sand-miners created deep pits in beds of major rivers like the Pampa, constricting their natural flow. There is also the case of a tributary of the Pampa, called the Varattar, drying up due to unbridled human intervention, the sources said.