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Boats sail on troubled waters
- Vessel owners unaware of technical guidelines laid down by IWT

Dhubri, May 2: Boats of all sizes and capacity sail on the mighty Brahmaputra. This is because boat owners make the vessels and then get them approved, in contravention of rules that state the plan should be cleared before they are built.

Ask any boat owner whether there are guidelines on the size and capacity of boats. He will say no. Nawshad Ali, a boat owner in Dhubri district, said there were no guidelines for building boats. Owners thus build boats according to their requirements, get them registered and get licence to ply them on the river.

But the fact is that the Inland Water Transport Authority has laid down technical guidelines for building boats and owners are required to get the diagram of a boat approved from the chief surveyor of the IWT before building it.

An official source said these guidelines, however, have never been followed.

A junior engineer of Dhubri IWT sectional office, Bonomali Kalita, said it was mandatory to follow some technical guidelines while making boats but no owner ever complied with these.

“Under the IWT Act, a boat owner should first approach the chief surveyor of IWT with a well-drawn diagram and detail specification of material to be used. If it satisfies the chief surveyor, he will approve it. But the fact is that no boat owner follows the guidelines,” Kalita admitted.

The president of Assam-Meghalaya Central Union of Shallow Boats, Chand Miah, said there were 2,300 small and large boats — sailing to and from different ghats along the south and north banks of the Brahmaputra in Dhubri district — registered with the union.

An official source said three large boats under the IWT were in operation in Dhubri district while 29 large and engine-fitted boats were registered with the IWT. But a large number of boats were neither registered nor had any official permission to sail on the river.

A senior official of Dhubri district administration said a few years ago the then deputy commissioner, Jatindra Lahkar, had written to the IWT several times to ensure the safety of passengers by providing life jackets and other amenities but the authority did not comply with the request. He also said boatmen do not comply with rules laid down by the Dhubri deputy commissioner to register boats.

A source alleged that the boat syndicate calls the shots under the patronage of politicians.