Danger lurks under water for hundreds of villagers who routinely commute in mechanised wooden boats and coracles across the river Cauvery between villages situated on either sides of its banks in districts including Salem and Dharmapuri through which the river passes.
These boats ferrying villagers, from one to bank to another, neither have worthiness certificates from any proper authorities nor carry safety equipment such as life jackets and life buoys aboard thus putting the lives of innocents at great risk.
Strangely, the respective village panchayats are allowed to issue permits to the private boat operators, who ferry the passengers across the river on a yearly lease blatantly violating all safety norms. “Unfortunately, no government department has the right to interfere,” says a senior PWD official. More or less similar conditions prevail in Erode, Namakkal and Karur districts where villagers living on either sides of the banks depend on such ferry services.
The villagers from Dharmapuri district including women and children prefer the boat travel across the massive 151-square km water spread of the Stanley reservoir in the Cauvery River to come to Pannavadi in Mettur taluk since the bus route from their villages is circuitous and time-consuming.
It is a mere 2-kilometre of water spread that separates the villages such as Nagamarai, Neruppur, Eriyur, Ottanur and Yemanur on the other side of the Dharmapuri district from Pannavadi village. The travel time is less than 30 minutes, whereas it is nearly 2 hours by road. Hence this mode of transport is preferred despite the danger involved.
What disturbs many is that these wooden boats and coracles carry none of the safety equipment the government insisted on following the Thekkady boat tragedy. The boat driver also is unaware of any safety requirements, thus endangering the lives of many on the boat.
To add to this, is the towing of badly maintained coracles, now being replaced by fibre class ones, behind the main boat. The coracles tied to the boat carry heavy load such as bi-cycles, motor bikes, mopeds and at times, even cattle heads. Instead of the permitted 20 persons, the caravan of boat and coracles carry nearly 40 to 50 per ride. “We prefer ferry service as it saves not only the time but also money,” said a villager.
Safety measures are found missing in boats that ply between Poolampatti in Salem district and Nerunchipettai in Erode district across the Cauvery. Recently, passengers had a miraculous escape when their boat capsized, fortunately nearer the river bank enabling a few to swim to safety while others were rescued by villagers.