Stricter laws could have prevented the North Guwahati boat tragedy


Stricter laws could have prevented the North Guwahati boat tragedy

Chetan Bhattarai | September 12, 2018 14:33 hrs

The September 5 boat tragedy on the banks of North Guwahati was an eye-opener on what the state of our inland water transport was in the city. The accident threw light on the plight of the common Guwahatian travelling in a rickety vessel, putting his life at risk all the time. It also brought back to focus the lack of safety standards in river transport.

G Plus did a poll on who was to be held responsible for the accident. To our surprise the majority of respondents - 61% - held the people responsible for the tragedy. Out of the 1900 respondents, 39% believed that the government failed in imparting its duties. The public sentiment of the G Plus poll was skewed because the respondents believed that the tragedy could have been averted by the passengers themselves.

Going through the eyewitnesses’ accounts it was evident that the passengers boarded it even after knowing that the boat had engine issues. It failed to start for some time and there was water below the engine area. They should have changed the vessel there and then, felt many of the respondents. It just shows that the people risked their lives willingly. The respondents believed there was nothing that could have stopped the passengers from marching out of that dilapidated, floating, wooden death trap. Respondents who defended the unlucky passengers said that the distance by road would mean taking a long, tiring detour of 17 kms, which by the water channel was only a kilometre and would take a much shorter time.

Lack of more boats was the reason people board these overcrowded boats.

Those who blamed the government said that stricter laws would have avoided the accident. The respondents questioned the role of the Inland Water Transport Department officials who are responsible for the safety of the passengers travelling by the river. There is strong resentment among the respondents regarding the lackadaisical attitude of those entrusted to fulfil their duties.

Regular checking of the boats and keeping a check on the overcrowded ones would have saved many lives. Respondents wondered how a boat in such a dilapidated state was even allowed to operate? Moreover, the absence of life jackets and other safety equipment was seen as a serious lapse on the part of the IWT department. Safety should be the first thing when it comes to travelling through such a strong river current. This clearly shows that the officials were solely responsible for the mishap believed the respondents.

Respondents were also sceptical that if such shady operations were allowed in a city like Guwahati what would be the state of other small towns that use similar mode of transport in identical conditions? It seems the government is not taking the lives of the common citizens seriously, felt the respondents. Strict laws should be in place for the offenders as lives of people are at stake. There should be regular technical checks on all passenger carrying, river transport vehicles so that no more lives are lost due to negligence.

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