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Poor business affecting houseboats in Kumarakom

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Hard times: Houseboats lying idle at Kumarakom.
Hard times: Houseboats lying idle at Kumarakom.

George Jacob

Tougher norms and cancellation of bookings are the reasons

KOTTAYAM: The Thekkady boat accident has adversely affected the backwater tourism industry in Kumarakom, which includes umpteen houseboats. With more and more people cancelling their boat cruises, the small entrepreneurs have been pushed to a crisis-like situation.

Pushkaran Aattuchira, president of the Kerala House Boat Owners’ Association, says, “We are caught between the devil and the deep sea. On the one hand, people are cancelling their bookings for a boat ride and on the other hand insensitive bureaucracy is forcing us to go through lots of security checks.” According to him, the basic issue was that the authorities were trying to implement the provisions of the 1924 Canal Act, which was created for boats of a different age and therefore archaic.

Meanwhile, officials have completed the security checks of 194 boats. According to Tomy George, Executive Engineer (Major Irrigation) who is in charge of the inspection of boats in Kottayam, special sessions for checking of boats have been arranged for October 26 and 27, when the process would be completed.

According to Mr. Pushkaran, houseboats with a laden weight ranging from 60-100 tonnes should not carry more than six persons for their cruises. These boats have never capsized. “Comparing them with motorboats was not right. But as of now the only rules that governed the sector was the Canal Act,” he said.

About 100 houseboats operate in the Kumarakom area. There are many motorboats too which carry less than 10 persons. According to Mr. Pushkaran, appointing three employees—driver, lascar and srank—would make their business commercially unfeasible.

But according to Jijo Jose, secretary, Kottayam District Tourism Promotion Council, the issue of security cannot be compromised at any cost. For an industry that was competing with international players these basic issues have to be addressed at the earliest. The situation was such that only a few boat owners fully conformed to the rules.

He said the DTPC have already taken the initiative to open a training school for the boat drivers, the first of its kind in Kerala. This initiative was taken much before the Thekkady accident. The first batch of 30 candidates would pass out next week after 100 hours of training. The comprehensive course includes training in hospitality, safety needs, First aid, communication skills and swimming in addition to driving and maintenance skills. The DTPC has already selected 300 candidates for the 10 batches, Mr. Jose said.

Meanwhile the boat owners in Kumarakom and Alappuzha held a meeting here on Saturday and have decided to take to warpath if the authorities failed to extend them enough time to comply with the existing rules.

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