Troubled waters

There seems to be no control over the private boating sector in the State, as is evident by a series of boat tragedies that have occurred over the last few years.

The State Government is left searching for answers as it struggles to fix accountability for the serious lack of oversight that has led to the mishaps which have taken the lives of scores of people just in the last two years.

After a two-hour long meeting with Port, Revenue, Police, Irrigation, Fire, Tourism and Fisheries officials at Rajamahendravaram, Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy and a group of Ministers were reportedly unable to pinpoint any one single department that could be held accountable. A High-Level Committee was entrusted the task of fixing accountability.

It is now safe to say that many boats operating in water bodies in Andhra Pradesh are ignoring safety norms. Private boat operators take advantage of the poor vigil on boating operations, lack of control by any department, poor enforcement of rules and no criminal action against violators.

No permits

While bigger boats possess licences, most of the country boats operate without any licence. There is no record of how many country boats are operating in the rivers and canals of the State, and the boat owners, sarung (boat driver) or the other crew are least bothered about maintaining life jackets or other safety equipment on board their vessels.

"Police do not have powers to check licences or restrict boating. In the recent incident, though the Devipatnam police stopped the boat and insisted that the operator not go to Papikondalu owing to heavy flood, the sarung went ahead. After an hour, the boat capsised," a senior police officer said.

The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) and private boat operators offer tourist packages to various places, including Dindi Resorts, Pattiseema, Gundlakamma Reservoir, Mylavaram Dam, Nellore Cheruvu, Rajamahendravaram, Bhavani Island in Vijayawada, Nagarjuna Sagar, Devuni Kadapa, Srisailam and other tourist spots.

As there is no proper mechanism that governs water transport in the State, operators run boats even when the rivers are in spate, and fleece gullible tourists. They also do not maintain a list containing the full details of passengers on board, which makes it difficult to obtain information in case of a mishap.

Negligence

In Godavari, about 24 tourist boats are being operated from Rajamahendravaram to Papikondalu, via Angaluru, Polavaram, Perantallapalli and Gandi Pochamma Gudi. In the Krishna, 70 private and speed boats are being operated to Bhavani Island, boating in the river and at Pavithra Sangamam and to ferry the villagers to the other side of the river. However, unconfirmed reports say that more than 200 boats are being operated illegally.

"When the water is flowing at the danger level, and when the AP Tourism boats were stopped from plying in the Godavari, why were private boats allowed? The negligence of the government has ruined many families," said Durgam Madhulatha, who lost her husband Subramanyam and her daughter Hasini in the recent boat mishap at Kachluru.

The Royal Vasishta, which drowned near Kachluru, and a boat that had drowned in Krishna in November last year, led to the death of 34 and 21 persons respectively. Both the boats did not possess any licence and were operating illegally. There are many such unlicensed boats operating on both rivers, as there is no fear of law or regulation or even a surprise inspection. Officials say all three major boat mishaps in the State during the last three years were avoidable.

Overloading

There were no caution boards at many tourist spots, nor any mechanism in place to suspend boat services during floods. The Irrigation and Port personnel should thoroughly check the condition of the boat, including its engine, and the safety equipment on board. The Fire Department should check for the presence of foam extinguishers, sand buckets, life buoys and inflammable material if any, on the boats. Besides, the sarung should not allow overloading of tourists.

There are instances of tourists forcing the boat operators to operate the vessel in adverse weather, which can also lead to mishaps. The boat operators are said to enjoy political clout and are allegedly hand-in-glove with the powers that be, which enables them to operate without the requisite clearances. It is said that some political leaders and officials are the indirect owners of several boats.

‘Worst accident’

Irrigation authorities said that the Kachluru boat tragedy is the worst accident in the last 50 years.

"In 1962, 60 persons died in a boat mishap on the Godavari, and the Kachluru incident is the biggest to have occurred in the river after five decades," an Irrigation Department official said.

"Earlier, the Irrigation Department used to issue licences to boats. But now, the Ports Department is the licence issuing authority," a senior engineer said.

To plug loopholes in the system, the government has constituted a High-Level Committee and has directed setting up of Control Rooms to check vessels at regular intervals to prevent boat mishaps, a police officer said.

"On normal days, about 1,000 to 1,500 tourists visit Papikondalu. But during holidays, the rush goes up to around 5,000," a boat operator said.

Let's block ads! (Why?)