The news of the boat tragedy in Ernakulam in which 15 schoolchildren and three teachers returning from the Thattekad bird sanctuary drowned in the Bhoothathankettu reservoir shocked the whole country. According to media reports, the makeshift boats that carried the students after the permitted hours were unfit for operation. The tragedy occurred as a result of throwing all caution to the winds. It is a grim reminder of the fact that safety measures in all areas are grossly inadequate. Unless we take safety more seriously, such accidents will continue to take place.
K.G. Koru Kuttan Nair,
The accident could have been prevented had minimal adherence to safety norms been ensured as pointed out in the editorial "An avoidable tragedy" (Feb. 22). Monetary compensation or participation of VIPs in the funeral may bring some solace to the victims' families but effectively makes no difference to them. The need of the hour is to evolve safety norms at all levels to avoid recurrence of similar accidents. The Government can perhaps begin by regulating autorickshaws that precariously transport children with their loads of books to and from schools.
The tragedy could have been avoided if there had been a mechanism to make boat owners and officials concerned accountable for such incidents. Mandatory licensing must include adherence to safety norms, and pollution and waste control rules.
V.V. Nair (retd.),
Taking schoolchildren on picnics, especially to dangerous spots, is always risky. It is very difficult for the teachers accompanying them to follow the time schedule strictly. Only those manning the boats could have properly assessed the real danger of going into the waters close to sundown. One can only hope that effective steps will be taken to prevent such tragedies in future.
The tragedy should serve as an eye-opener to the administrators as well as the people of Kerala. Similar tragedies, including one at Kumarakom in 2002, have occurred in the past. After every unfortunate incident, the media carry extensive reports as they are doing now. But we seem to be satisfied with statements promising better safety measures and no more. What action have the authorities taken after the tragedies? What we all seem to do is indulge in exhaustive discussions that lead to virtually nothing.
With over 100 children and 12 staff members crammed into three makeshift boats, it was a tragedy waiting to happen. One wonders why the adults who were responsible for the children's safety agreed to such a risky ride. Worse, how could the school authorities arrange an excursion for such a large group of children without considering the safety aspects? Of course, the boatmen and the operators deserve to be blamed for operating the unsafe boats but it is those who put those little ones in the vulnerable situation the school authorities who are largely to blame.
Such tragedies happen mainly because of the callous attitude of our civic authorities. Who gave permission to the boat owners to ply such ill-equipped boats? Where were the life jackets and other mandatory life saving equipment? Boat operators who want to make a fast buck throw safety to the winds. But are not the authorities supposed to enforce the rules strictly? The school authorities are also to blame for agreeing to use such boats.
It is regrettable that the government has framed no guidelines for school excursions so far. The education department should make some aspects mandatory. The school should be satisfied that minimum facilities are available in the spot selected for picnic; it should make sure that the transport operator has conducted trips to the location earlier; it should verify the condition of the vehicle to be used and the fitness certificate issued by the RTO; if the excursion involves a boat ride, the water route should be decided in advance and the fitness certificates issued by the authorities verified; and the person leading the team should carry the telephone numbers of the nearest police station or control room, hospital, fire-fighting unit and ensure that the boat operator has a mobile phone.