The proposed government move to impose marine safety laws on houseboats has triggered yet another unrest in the houseboat sector here, with the All Kerala Houseboat Owners’ Association planning a major agitation to prevent the government from going ahead with the new laws.
The Association, which staged a dharna in front of the District Collectorate on Friday, said the B.R. Menon Commission, appointed by the government after the Thekkady boat tragedy, had recommended new safety laws for the entire water transport sector in the State and that these were based on existing marine safety laws. The Association says that these laws are suitable for boats operating on the seas, and not on stagnant lakes or backwaters, more so because there was no history of technical flaws resulting in accidents involving houseboats.
“The laws have called for major changes including increasing the height between the deck and the bottom of the houseboat. At present, the height is about two to three feet, and they want it to be increased to at least seven feet so that officials can comfortably inspect that portion of the boat. But that means, all boats, not just houseboats but the State Government’s transport boats too, will have to be reconstructed. We are not in a position to afford that kind of work,” Association General Secretary Rajan Peter Arouje told The Hindu.
Further, Mr. Peter pointed out, the new laws required ITI-passed persons to be appointed as drivers. “This is not possible. One reason is that such qualified persons are not available in the sector and secondly, what will the existing drivers do? The other crew too will be affected and a major labour issue will be the result,” he said.
Stating that safety laws were indeed essential in the houseboat sector and that the Association had been calling for a new set of laws instead of the existing Travancore-Cochin Ferry Act of 1917, Mr. Peter said the Association however could not support unjustified laws like those proposed now.
The Association, which handed over a memorandum signed by 216 of its members to District Collector P. Venugopal and A.A. Shukoor, MLA, on Friday, is also planning a dharna in front of the State Secretariat. The agitation will be intensified if there is no positive response from the government, they said.