PIL cites The Hindu report highlighting unsafe boat operation

A public interest litigation has been moved in the Kerala High Court seeking a directive to the State government, Department of Ports, and the Cochin Port Trust to ensure that tourist boats operating in the Kochi backwaters complied with the Kerala Inland Vessels Rules and Cochin Harbour Craft Rules.

In his petition, T.M. Sivan, a retired Serang of a boat under the State Water Transport Department, said that tourist boats were operating in the Kochi backwaters without ensuring the safety of passengers. He said that after his retirement, he had worked as Serang in a private tourist boat operating from the Marine Drive Boat Jetty. However, he had to chuck the job after he found that the boat was operating without adhering to safety norms.

He cited a news report that appeared in The Hindu dated January 25 highlighting the unsafe operation of tourist boats in the Kochi backwaters. The report said many tourist boats did not have lifejackets and some of them had wobbly upper decks with no proper railings to ensure safety of passengers. Though some boats had stacked lifejackets, they were eight to ten years old, mainly sourced from the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department under the tsunami relief programme. The report added that the Cochin Port Trust and other enforcement agencies did not seem to have ever checked whether these lifejackets could be used in times of emergency. Nor was any safety audit conducted even for the boats that operated from the government boat jetty on the Marine Drive. The petitioner pointed out that he had lodged a complaint with the Port Conservator, Kodungallur/ Munambam, pleading to take necessary action against the boat owners for operating vessels without complying with the KIV Rules and without valid permit and skilled crew.

Exemption given

Counsel for the petitioner, A.X. Varghese, contended that the Kerala Inland Vessel Rules came into force on September 15, 2010. However, the State government exempted the vessels which had obtained permission under the Travancore Public Canal and Public Ferries Act and Cochin Public Canals and backwaters Navigation Act for one year from the new rules. In fact, the vessels operating in the backwaters had not taken any valid permit under the new rules for operation. Besides, for plying in the waters under the control of the Cochin Port Trust, a vessel needs to obtain permit under Cochin Harbour Craft Rules 1947. The petitioner also noted that a vessel carried passengers ten times of its capacity, that too without providing lifesaving equipment. Even the available equipment were often dumped inside the boats. As a result, if an accident happened, passengers might not be able to get the safety equipment. He pointed out that former State Police Chief Jacob Punnoose had directed in March 2010 to the City Police to carry out random checks to prevent overcrowding and safety violations after the Thekkady tragedy. However, the police seemed to have ignored the directive.