Pressing need to rein in houseboats flouting rules

Half of the 1,500 houseboats plying in Alappuzha backwaters don’t have required sanction

Amidst the recurring accidents involving houseboats and concerns over non-compliance with rules, there is a renewed call for the constitution of an authority for regulating the sector.

On Thursday, 16 people, including 13 tourists and three crew members, had a miraculous escape after the houseboat they were cruising caught fire near Pathiramanal island. A probe by Ports Department, the licensing authority, revealed that the houseboat had been operating in total disregard for the rules — without a registration and mandatory licence, clearances and safety equipment.

According to officials, of the total 1,500 houseboats plying in Alappuzha backwaters, nearly half of them operate without registration and mandatory licence.

Sources said a lack of regulation and oversight, mostly in the absence of coordination among government departments and agencies, was pushing the backwater tourism sector into disarray.

“The sector is ruled by several departments. The role of the tourism department is confined to facilitating guests. But, other departments are playing a more dominant role. While, the Ports Department is responsible for registration and issuing licence, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board is the authority for issuing pollution-related clearance. The police have a responsibility to ensure houseboats crew are not working under the influence of alcohol, among other things. However, in the absence of coordination among the departments, there is hardly any regulation taking place in the sector. This is leading to a total disregard for rules on the part of houseboat operators,” said an official with the Tourism Department.

The official said the formation of a district-level regulatory authority with members drawn from the district administration, Ports, Tourism, KSPCB, police, Fire and Rescue Services among others would help to regulate, coordinate actions and bring decorum in the sector. “Alappuzha backwaters is home to the highest number of houseboats in the State. A proposal for such as authority has been made a few years ago, but it remains on paper,” the official added.

When contacted, an official with the Ports Department said lack of power and staff crunch were preventing them from acting tough against the erring houseboats. “Couple of years ago, we have submitted a proposal to the government for the constitution of an enforcement wing under a Deputy Superintendent of Police to carry out patrolling in inland waters for ensuring the safety of the passengers on board including at night halt centres. But,nothing has come to fruition,” the official added.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 12:03:26 AM |

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