Boating in Jharkhand’s picturesque lakes and reservoirs was fun until this sorry Sunday.
The capsize in Ranchi Lake, which left three dead and several others traumatised on a specially planned morning, has lobbed uncomfortable questions at the tourism department that has so far failed miserably to implement mandatory safety regulations for the rides.
Almost all government-manned water bodies that offer the thrills and spills of boating across the state, particularly in Ranchi and Hazaribagh, not only have ill-equipped fleets, but also commit the cardinal mistake of overcrowding — one of the primary reasons behind the fatal accident in the capital.
While most organisers of the sport claim that they include life vests in their safety inventory, adrenaline junkies seldom wear these simply because they are not told to. Compounding chances of a fatal mishap is the absence of lifeguards or divers at most such tourist hot spots.
In the capital city, the Kanke reservoir alone hosts boating, that too occasionally, while Ranchi Lake’s fancy start on Sunday was nipped in the bud. Adventure buffs are rarely seen venturing into the 30-feet-deep waters of the dam with life vests on and tourism bosses never thought it prudent to deploy divers either.
“We have life jackets at Kanke Dam. If you say tourists are not wearing them, the matter will be looked into urgently,” said Sunil Kumar, managing director of JTDC. He added that they would also evaluate other necessary safety protocols.
A private entertainment hub in Ratu, Fun Castle, owned by Nitesh Nath Shahdeo of Ratugarh too offers boat rides. So does Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park in Ormanjhi, on the outskirts of the capital.
Fun Castle administrators claim all their four operational boats are equipped with life vests while divers too stay on duty during visiting hours.
On the other hand, the zoo facility — run by the state forest department — has 10 two-seater boats with adequate number of personal flotation devices, but no divers to buffer emergencies. “When tourists go boating, they are asked to wear life vests. Besides, the depth of our lake in barely 5ft and no one can drown,” said zoo director A.K. Patra.
Hazaribagh, the other big draw for boating enthusiasts after Ranchi, is yet another glaring example of negligence.
Lake Two in the cluster of four offers 20-minute rides for just Rs 20 per individual. The cheap entertainment in the 15-acre and 45-feet-deep lake — availed of mostly by school and college students — is risky to the core because the life vest rule is never implemented.
Lake caretaker Gaurav Kumar insisted that they had six safety jackets. “Par, na koi mangta hai aur na humein yaad rehta hai ki life jacket dena hai (Neither do people ask for them, nor do we remember to give it to them).”
Chatra resident Avinash Kumar, who took a joyride with his family on Sunday, said the long wait for their turn scuttled their plans and priorities. “We had to wait for over 30 minutes and so, forgot to ask for life vests. But then, it is the responsibility of organisers to ensure the rule is followed.”
Tourism minister Suresh Paswan said he had sought a report on the Ranchi Lake accident by midweek. “I will also review safety measures at other boating destinations — both private and those run by my department — in the state so that a rerun of the tragedy can be avoided.”
In the meantime, Ranchi and Hazaribagh can take a lesson or two from Jamshedpur, where boating at Dimna Lake and Jayanti Sarovar are synonymous with safety.
Last week, Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) threw open its speed sport for the masses in the 1,462-acre and 50-feet-deep Dimna Lake. “There are two six-seater motor boats and a paddleboat. Two expert instructors have been deputed at the site to avoid untoward incidents. Boating is done along identified routes. Life vests are mandatory for all on board,” said P.P. Kapadia, a senior TSAF official.
At Jayanti Sarovar, boating is never allowed without a life vest. “Overloading is a strict no-no too,” said Bipul Chakraborty, director of Tata zoo, which runs the facility.
With inputs from Vishvendu Jaipuriar, Pinaki Majumdar
Did you ever go boating without a life vest?