The State Water Transport Department and Kerala Tourism are locking horns over private tourist boats operating from the ill-maintained Ernakulam Boat Jetty.
While Water Transport officials expressed concern over the safety of its ferries and the inadequate facilities at the jetty, sources in Kerala Tourism said that the tourist boats began their operations recently based on an agreement reached in 2009.
“Tourist boats already have two full-fledged jetties in Marine Drive. Their insisting on beginning operations from our boat jetty appears like a move to take over a portion of the premises. Moreover, our boats operate every 10 minutes from here and tourist vessels leaving or calling at the jetty pose a safety hazard. There were recent instances of vessels scraping past each other and things would turn serious if collisions take place near the shipping channel,” said the department's traffic superintendent Joseph Xavier.
He said that the police were informed on Friday after tourist boat operators flouted norms and led their guests through gates manned by department personnel. Interestingly, four fibre boats owned by the department have been idling at the jetty for years, occupying precious space in the jetty. This follows a court case that is pending about their fitness.
Moreover, the jetty building and its premises have been in horrible shape for many years, since Kerala Tourism has not allocated funds for their repair.
The department has not cleared the dues that it owes to the Central PWD, which built the aesthetically-designed structure. This despite the fact that hundreds of domestic and foreign tourists board Water Transport ferries from here daily to reach Fort Kochi, Mattancherry etc. The situation would turn grave during the rainy season since the premises become slushy with even a small downpour.
Sources in the Tourism Department said that the Revenue Department had not handed over to them the ownership certificate of the land reclaimed from the backwaters to build the jetty complex. This has resulted in the jetty's entrance, food kiosks and toilets going without power and water supply.
Reacting to the controversy, the MLA representing Ernakulam Hibi Eden said that it had been agreed earlier to hand over the premises for use by Water Transport boats.
“I will take the initiative and organise a meeting with officials of the departments concerned, so also the District Collector and Mayor, so that the issue is solved at the earliest. The jetty building and premises will be cleaned before the monsoon,” he said.