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Assam boat accident

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The boat which sank in Assam on April 30, 2012 while reportedly carrying over 300 people

Can this boat carry over 300 people? Should it? Who should ensure safety?

Reuters reported on April 30, 2012:

Rescue workers fought heavy wind and rain to search for survivors after at least 103 people drowned on an overloaded ferry carrying about 300 people that sank at night on one of India’s largest rivers on Monday, police said.

About 100 people were rescued, said Jayanta Narayan Choudhury, police chief of the state of Assam where the boat sank. The accident was the worst of its kind in recent memory in India’s northeastern region.

The boat was overloaded with people and sacks of rice, among other goods, and carried no lifeboats or life jackets, the police officer said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in the upper house of parliament, said he was “shocked and grieved” by the accident.

Rescue workers said they had contacted colleagues downstream in Bangladesh to help in the search for survivors.

DNA followed up:

Even after almost 24 hours of the biggest boat tragedies in the state, nobody exactly knows how many people were on board the ill-fated vessel that capsized in Brahmaputra.

Also, there are still no concrete figures to suggest the number of people dead and missing as conflicting reports continued to emerge.

The district administration said around 300 people on board the ill-fated vessel. “We received reports that 300 people were on board. It could be more or less than that,” Dhubri deputy commissioner Kumud Kalita told journalists.

But, the Assam’s Disaster Management Authority claimed that only 20 persons were missing as per FIRs lodged with the police till 2pm on Tuesday. It said bodies of 18 persons were recovered and 70 persons were rescued so far. While, the district authorities said bodies of 41 persons were found.

The figures of the disaster management authorities come amidst claims by the locals as well as one of the survivors Chand Mian that over 400 people were on board the ferry.

Tehelka reports that this incident does not need very deep investigation:

The incident occurred around 5.30 pm on Monday 30 April in lower Assam’s Dhubri district close to the International riverine border between India and Bangladesh. The boat was caught in a massive storm while it was on its way from Dhubri Kachari ghat to Medartary ghat of Fakirganj on the southern bank.

There were around 400 people on the boat, more than double its carrying capacity. “It was the last boat available so the boatmen were taking everyone as it was good business. We were travelling to Hatsinghimari, which takes about three hours. After 5pm, the weather became very bad, the boatmen were not able to control the boat when the storm broke. We requested them to ground the boat on a char (Sand bar) but they said the boat does not have floodlights and instead increased the speed, recalled Tayeb Ali (35), who jumped from the boat and swam to the bank.

The boat hit the bolder spur built to check erosion near the Medartary ghat and broke into three pieces. Locals allege that the boat did not have any life jacket or even floating tubes, a mandatory feature on any boat as per the Assam Government‘s rule. “In lower Assam people risk their life everyday to cross the Brahmaputra river on these poorly maintained boats. The government has no monitoring mechanism, so rules are not followed. There is no status check on the health and safety of the boats. This accident may have happened due to a storm but the entire inland water transport system in Assam has no monitoring,” said Maulana Badruddin Ajmal the Member of Parliament who represents Dhubi. Ajmal has announced Rs two crore as immediate relief from his MPLAD scheme to help the bereaved families. The MLAs from Ajmal’s party All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have also decided to donate a month’s salary to help the victims of the Assam’s worst boat mishap.

Meanwhile, the state government has declared Rs two lakh as ex-gratia payment for the next-of-kin of deceased, from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund along with of Rs 1.5 lakh from state funds and 50,000 for those admitted in the hospital.

It is good to have governmental relief funds, and it is necessary to give the fund management the right to pay out compensation to victims in extraordinary circumstances. However, the existence of such funds often provides governments with the ability to “lock the mouths of the victims”, as the Supreme Court recently said about another case. Paying out blood money cannot be an alternative to governance. Put money into loading and landing checks and effective safety inspections instead. There is expense involved, of course, such as salaries of inspectors and wharf-masters.

But it is not only the government which is to blame. Public interest is not served by TV news either. For two days on prime time TV all Indian channels devoted minor amounts of time to this news but spent almost the full time on studio debates. Reality shows and made-for-TV bad behaviour has taken over all news channels, since ad prices depend on viewership numbers, and channels believe that nothing sells as well as a slanging match. For footage and details of this news I had to watch the BBC!

Transport accidents are due to either the lack of safety norms or by the violation of norms. Framing good rules, and their enforcement is.the job of the government.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

May 2, 2012 at 5:02 am

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