In the absence of official records on the total number of passengers in the ill-fated boat that capsized in the Thekkady lake on October 30 with the death toll at 45, only unofficial figures are available to the agencies probing the circumstances that led to the accident.
A highly placed source told The Hindu on Saturday that there were 92 passengers on board the ‘Jalakanyaka’ owned by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) when it met with the accident.
There were also six policemen, as per the inquiry, said the source, and added that in the absence of records and the ‘unofficial’ accommodation of passengers, the total number exceeds the number of tickets issued at the checking point.
On board the boats owned by the KTDC and the Forest Department, passengers had been accommodated unofficially on the recommendation of officials at the concerned department and also with the knowledge of the persons manning at the checking point and at the operational level.
The total figure estimated at 92 was on the basis of various levels of inquiry and there was also no official data on the total number of passengers on the upper deck at the time of the accident.
The boat did not reach the last point as the journey began later than the scheduled time. The inquiry also shows absence of wild animals said to have been sighted, said the source.
The total number of persons accommodated on each trip conducted by the boats varies depending on the number of ‘unofficial’ accommodation.
It was also found that the boat returned to Manakkavala as the trip began late on the fateful day.
‘Jalarajan’ another tourist boat owned by the Forest Department was on time. The crew and the passengers of ‘Jalarajan’, which sighted the capsizing boat on its return trip, had helped in the rescue and search operation.
It was a crew member of the 'Jalarajan' boat who alerted a policeman on duty at the lake who in turn called the Kumily Circle Inspector. It was 6 p.m. when the Inspector arrived.
“As per the rule of the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), all boats conducting services have to return by 5.30 p.m. and all the tourists have to move out at the checking point at 6 p.m.,” said an official of the Forest Department.
The check-out time has been strictly observed and the return trips of the boats are scheduled as per the check-out time.