Troubled Waters: Assam’s Shambling Water Transports System; 26 Boat Capsizes since 2019

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Global workers association has blamed poor training, dangerous working practices and inadequate regulation for the deadly ferry accident in Assam
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Guwahati: The dangerous practice of using country boats to cross over water bodies flouting safety norms has been causing major distress to Assam. Incidents of boat capsize causing loss of human lives have become like a common incident in the state with official records saying that over 26 incidents of boat capsize were recorded in the state since 2019.

On Thursday too, in a similar incident, around 29 passengers were there in the country boat including circle officer Sanju Das, lot Mondal and ASDMA Field Officer along with local villagers coming from field verification.

During returning at around 10:30 AM, the boat hit a post inside the river and drowned. Local people and SDRF rescued many people but 9-10 people including circle officer were missing till filing of this report.

Last year in September only, two ferries with more than 100 passengers collided in Assam’s Majuli and capsized in the Brahmaputra river. Some three persons died while others luckily survived.

“In 2019, a total 15 incidents of drowning due to boat capsize were recorded in the state in which 15 people including four women died. Though there were no instances of drowning due to boat capsize was reported in 2020, the numbers shot up to 11 incidents killing one officially in 2021,” said an official of inland water transport (IWT) department citing official records.

According to sources, though there were some 104 registered ferry routes in the state, the IWT has only around 70 vessels to ply. It’s believed that due to the constant shortage of vessels; country boats were seen operating in many locations illegally and flouting safety norms.

Following the Majuli boat collision incident, the state government had banned mechanized boats from plying on rivers in Assam. The state government had ordered that all single-engine ferries should be converted to double-engine ones with reversible gears and as per safety norms, there must be one life jacket for each passenger in the vessel.

However, the norms were allegedly being flouted randomly. Almost all of them run beyond their maximum capacity putting the passengers’ life in jeopardy. In Thursday’s incident too, the boat that got capsized was reportedly s single engine country boat which was operating illegally too.

Even chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma expressed his surprise when he came to know that circle office personnel were on board of the ill fated boat.

“Such single engine boats are meant for carrying cargos only. But it’s very unfortunate that even government officials were using the boat. An enquiry will reveal more,” the CM said.

Official sources informed that some 2,221 private boats were registered with IWT department in Assam. Over 1200 of them have been operating in Dhubri district alone. These were excluding the hordes of unregistered boats that illegally run on the river.

Dhubri district recorded the state’s worst even boat capsize incident in April 2022 when a ferry carrying around 350 passengers overturned as a cyclone took over near the Fakiragram village. Over 100 people died.

A similar incident took place years later on September 5, 2018, near the Ashwaklanta temple in north Guwahati when a motorboat capsized after it hit a pole and capsized. The boat was carrying 36 passengers and several people reportedly died in the incident.

Earlier, a global workers association has blamed poor training, dangerous working practices and inadequate regulation for the deadly ferry accident in Assam.

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