The Telegraph
Thursday , May 1 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

Medattari just a memory

Dhubri, April 30: Azgar Ali Sheikh of Porabhita sar (sandbar) alighted from a bhut-bhuti at Jogomaya ghat of Dhubri today, a business trip he makes frequently from Porabhita sar (sandbar) on the south bank.

As he stepped off, he thought to himself that nothing has changed, no lesson has been learnt from the boat capsize at Medattari in Goalpara district exactly two years ago in which 41 people lost their lives and eight went missing.

“Overloading is still a common feature of every bhut-bhuti, the lifeline of the people living on the sandbars, but not a single step has been taken to guarantee the safety of the passengers even after the horrific incident,” Sheikh said.

Other passengers who got off the same boat said the old and rickety boats still ply and there was hardly any lifejacket or medicine available at the time of an emergency.

The Inland Water Transport (IWT) whose lapses and irregularities had allegedly led to the disaster has made no attempt to plug the loopholes and the assurances of the Centre and the state government to streamline river transportation remained on paper.

The Assam government ordered a probe on May 2, 2012, by additional chief secretary Jitesh Khosla, who was asked to submit his report within 30 days. But it was not known if the report was submitted within stipulated time at all as it was never made public.

The main problems which the IWT has been facing in streamlining river transportation is the indifferent attitude of the panchayat and zilla parishad which runs the thousands of boats from the panchayat area by leasing out the ghats but without registering the boats with the IWT.

An IWT source in Dhubri said there are nearly 4,000 boats which include fishing boats, dingy, bhut bhutis (engine-fitted small boats), engine-fitted large single boats and mar-boats (two enjoined boats) in Dhubri district.

But only around 1,500 of those were registered with either the IWT or the district administration and panchayat.

A source said though 631 boat-owners applied for registration to the Dhubri IWT sectional office, around 100 were successful. The applications of 250 owners are pending while the papers for the rest of the boats either have not been submitted or are still being scrutinised.

Dhubri IWT sectional officer Rubul Goswami said 250 applications were pending in the head office in Guwahati and efforts were being made to include all the boats under the department. “Owing to the Lok Sabha election, the process of registration has been delayed but once the results of the election are declared next month, we will expedite the registration process,” Goswami said. Asked about the progress of the work, including construction of permanent ghats and introduction of more mar boats as promised by the state and Union governments after the boat mishap in 2012, Goswami said those were still on paper.

An IWT source said all reforms have been put on hold as the department was in the final stages of being turned into a corporation.