Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), custodian of the Rabindra Sarobar, has not called any meeting since two 14-year-old rowers drowned in the lake on Saturday to review the safety protocol at the rowing clubs, agency officials said.
The KMDA was accused of failing in its role as the custodian of the Sarobar earlier, too.
In 2019, Chhath worshippers had mauled the lake and the greens by performing rituals despite a ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal on all such activities in the compound. KMDA officials had passed the onus on the offenders.
The worshippers had broken the locks of several gates to the Rabindra Sarobar and entered the compound to perform the rituals while police were nowhere to be seen. Private guards at the Sarobar looked on helplessly.
The police on their part had said there was no request from the Sarobar custodians to deploy force for Chhath Puja but claimed that cops visited the spot after they got information about a law-and-order problem on the premises.
All rowing clubs that operate from the Sarobar have to seek annual permission from the KMDA to continue their activities, said an official of the agency. The clubs also pay an annual rent to the KMDA.
Before a rowing competition at the Sarobar, the organising club informs the agency in writing about the event.
The inside of the club on Monday.Pradip Sanyal
KMDA officials, however, told The Telegraph on Monday that their role was restricted to asking the clubs to take all safety measures. Because of lack of expertise in the matter, the agency does not proactively check what the clubs are actually doing.
Antara Acharya, chief executive officer of the KMDA, said on Monday afternoon that the agency would not compromise on safety standards.
“The safety of human lives is of paramount importance. The KMDA has told the rowing clubs unambiguously that all safety measures have to be in place. The rowing clubs at the Rabindra Sarobar have been around for decades and there are surely safety protocols that they must adhere to. We are in touch with the clubs and will take necessary action in the coming days.”
In response to a query from this newspaper, another KMDA official said the agency had not called any meeting with the rowing clubs since Saturday’s tragedy to review their safety protocols.
“We do not have the expertise to check the safety measures required for rowing. We leave it to the clubs. But in all our meetings, we reiterate that they should undertake rowing activities following all safety measures,” said the official.
The reasoning did not cut ice with many Kolkatans who know that the KMDA is the custodian of the Sarobar.
“The KMDA may not be an expert in rowing but as a government agency it can invite rowing experts to prepare or assess a safety protocol,” said a regular visitor to the Sarobar.
Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation, implementing agency of East-West Metro, had involved international experts in 2019 when tunnel-boring work led to cracks in houses in Bowbazar and the project had to be stalled. The experts suggested a way forward.
The father of a girl who was an active rower at the Sarobar said he expected more action from the KMDA.
“The KMDA is earning a fee from the clubs. It must check whether the clubs are following all safety measures. As the custodian of the place, the KMDA is also responsible for anything going wrong at the Rabindra Sarobar,” he said.
Two young rowers who survived Saturday’s Nor’wester, which clocked 90kmph, have said they were never told how to respond in such a situation. Nor did they know that rowing boats could never sink.
Had they known the crucial fact, the survivors said, they would have held on to the boat till help arrived instead of trying to swim through the turbulent water to the bank.