Commuters on a ferryboat plying between Chorao and Pomburpa had a harrowing experience for nearly three hours last Thursday as its engine failed after it got entangled in a stray rope, causing the vessel to drift. No rescue team came for three hours. The incident exposed lack of a quick response system, despite the fact that a number of ferries failed mid-stream and drifted along with the currents in the past. The river navigation department officials have admitted that there was no quick response team to deal with emergency situations and a mechanism that is in place is available only during office hours. Though ferries have a few life jackets to be used during an emergency situation, given the large number of people who travel during rush hours they are not sufficient in number. The department staff is not equipped to deal with emergency situations, a lacking which is compounded by lack of a proper communication system.
The government has not given any serious thought to set up a quick response team, perhaps because ferries fail not more than three or four times a year and no tragedy involving loss of life has taken place yet. However, the government should not take chances and depend on Providence for the safety of ferry commuters. In view of a fleet of ferries having been deployed on 18 different routes across the state which are used by around 25,000 commuters, the authorities need to be sensitive to the safety of the commuters. A Quick Response System should be set up immediately. It should also be the endeavour of the authorities to ensure that the ferry routes were free from ropes and fishing nets in the state rivers present there owing to fishing activity. Periodical checks should be carried out to remove stray ropes and fish nets to prevent any incident like that happened on April 14. While the authorities cannot do much in cases of natural calamities like gusty winds they can surely remove man-made impediments for safe ferry journeys.
Minister for River Navigation Ramakrishna Dhavalikar has said that double-engine ferry boats could prevent situations like the one that was reported on the Chorao-Pomburpa route and that 12 ferry boats having double engine have been built so far and deployed. There is need for many more such ferry boats; the government should find funds to get more double-engine ferry boats and deploy them all over the state ferry routes. As the assistance team that exists to be deployed in case of emergencies is located far away from most of the ferry points, it should be the endeavour of the authorities to deploy emergency teams at different points to deal with any emergent situation so that help could reach faster and tragedies are prevented. Besides, the crew of the ferry boats should be trained to carry out measures in any emergency situation and rectify the faults so as to prevent drifting of the ferry boats till the help arrives. The state government wants to utilise the 250-km navigable waterways in the state for providing alternative transportation route as part of tourism promotion; for that it should provide for safety and rescue norms beforehand so that they could easily be put to use when the newer river routes are made operational. A foolproof safety and rescue system to provide safe journey to ferryboat commuters should be set up and maintained in perfect order.
The authorities should also streamline the operation of the ferry boats. Overcrowding of ferry boats should be avoided to prevent any tragedy. Overcrowding in the ferry boats is witnessed all over the state, especially during the rush hours in the mornings and evenings, with people boarding the ferry boats even when they are loaded beyond their capacities. Given the fact that most ferry boats carry more passengers than they are meant to, the authorities should provide for more safety gadgets. Providing free transportation to the thousands of people does not mean their safety has to be compromised: thus first thing, overloading of ferry boats should be prevented at all costs. The government could deploy special personnel to ensure safety and ferry boats should carry only the number of passengers and vehicles they are permitted to. Safety rules should be strictly implemented and those flouting them should be penalized to send out a message that no compromise could be made in the matter of human safety. Ferry commuters, especially vehicle owners should also go by the rules for their own safety and that of the others. The ferry ramps which are in bad shape should be repaired and proper lighting arrangements made to ensure the safety of the people.