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Boats `grounded' in Lake City

Special Correspondent

Four boats, plied by two heritage hotels in the Picchola Lake of Udaipur, have been seized by transport authorities for violation of Boating Act

JAIPUR: Boating in the famous lakes of Udaipur may not be a pleasurable activity as many an unwary tourist, out for some fun in the legendry Lake City, might think. The transport authorities in the City claim to have found gross violations of rules in the plying and maintenance of the boats operated by even the prestigious hotel groups which host VVIPs of the category of the Prime Ministers of India and Great Britain.

Two boats each, belonging to the Lake Palace Hotel, run by the Taj Group and Udaivilas Hotel, belonging to the Oberoi Group of Hotels, have been seized by the Regional Transport Officer of Udaipur for alleged violation of the rules under the Rajasthan Regulation of Boating Act, 1956. The boats will have to be "grounded " for the next two months.

The action follows detection of gross violation of safety norms, including the passengers not wearing life jackets and the boats not being "fit" for operation.

True, the VIIPs, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and British Premier Tony Blair, during their one-day visit to the City for the European Union summit on September 8 did not have any schedule for a boat-ride. However, the authorities came across the precarious condition of the boats floating in the Picchola Lake — on the banks of which Udaivilas, which hosted them stands — during the preparation for their visit.

"The apathy is shocking. These hoteliers should have a high sense of responsibility considering the category of people they host," Mukul Raj, Regional Transport Officer, who issued the orders for the seizure of boats said talking to The Hindu on telephone from Udaipur. The lake, which is about 18 feet deep, could be treacherous on windy days and at night. Though the Act prevents boating after sunset and before dawn these rules are often violated by the hotels. There were also other violations like organizing dinners for special guests on planks floating in the lake and on ceremonial boats as well, he noted.

The boating rules were regulated for the first time in Rajasthan after a tragedy in the Jaisamand Lake in Salumber near Udaipur in 1996 in which 13 tourists from Gujarat got drowned. The then Chief Minister, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who happened to be in the area during the catastrophe called for more stringent rules on boating even as he ordered the dismissal of the RTO and the transfer of the Collector.

"A week back we had set up a team to study the compliance of rules related to boating in the Lake City. The findings are worrisome," Mr. Raj said. One of the three big hotels could not produce any proper document of fitness for their boats. Even they did not have the licence to ply then boats, he said. "We have now warned them that in case anything happens they would be held responsible," he noted.

They're about 33-35 boats floating on the waters of the Picchola at present. As many as 18 boats reportedly belongs to the Lake Palace which uses them to ferry the guests. When the Picchola is full — and luckily it is this time after a gap of few years — the only way to reach the Lake Palace is to use a boat.

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