Editorial

Drowned by state failure

The boat disaster in the Ganga on Makar Sankranti day that killed at least 24 people is another reminder that safety in public transport remains a low priority for governments. As with road accidents, mishaps in the inland waterways and lakes take a terrible toll of lives regularly, with no effective administrative response. In the Ganga Diara tragedy near Patna, a large number of people had apparently crammed themselves into a small vessel for a free ride after witnessing a kite festival. The relief offered to the kin of the dead and injured both by the Centre and the Bihar government should not, however, obscure the fact that the loss of life was entirely the result of official failures. This was obviously the result of serious neglect of safety norms for which accountability must be fixed. It is essential that a judicial commission be constituted to inquire into the incident, to determine whether the laws on transport using inland waterways are being implemented and to issue directions for the future. The country boat involved appears not to have used its engine at the time of the accident, but the absence of safety training for operators is painfully evident.

The Centre, which talks of a paradigm shift in freight and passenger transport using inland waterways, should respond to the shameful national record on boat safety by firmly implementing existing laws and introducing new measures along with the States. Just last year it expanded the National Waterways programme and notified several stretches of rivers and canals for a new deal for inland water transport. Under the amendments to the colonial-era Inland Vessels Act made in 2007 — which is to be further modernised — it is incumbent on the States to apply some provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act to accidents, compensation and insurance against third-party risks for powered boats. Just as in the case of motor vehicles, registration of inland vessels other than small personal non-powered craft must be made mandatory. This will help enforce construction standards, subsidy for transport boats, passenger insurance and accident compensation. In the latest tragedy, the problem also appears to have been inadequate supply, which forced people to pack themselves into the available boats. If this is true, the Bihar government must own full responsibility and prevent a recurrence. The heart-rending spectacle of children and their kin perishing on what should have been a day of celebration must stir the conscience of governments whose duty it is to provide safe and adequate public transport, and one at which they fail badly.


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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 7:08:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Drowned-by-state-failure/article17041318.ece

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