Lifejackets on display, not on passengers

Ferry safety norms flouted, say officials

By Raja Das in Guwahati
  • Published 13.09.18
The overcrowded M.V. Melvinejones vessel crosses the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. Picture by Manash Das

Guwahati: Most of the passengers on the ferry between here and north Guwahati on Wednesday were not seen using the lifejackets that were made mandatory by state transport minister Chandra Mohan Patowary on Monday.

The decision of putting on lifejackets for each passenger while boarding the vessels was taken in a review meeting at the directorate of inland water transport office here, after the boat capsize on September 5 that took four lives.

"We were not provided any lifejackets. But a number of lifejackets were displayed around the vessel. They will throw this to us, when we are going to die," alleged a peeved passenger, who had waited for an hour to board a vessel going to Madhyam Khanda Ghat from here. The vessel, M.V. Melvinejones, left Guwahati for Madhyam-khanda ghat after every hour.

"In all the five ghats here, seven government vessels are running now after every hour," said IWT director Bharat Bhushan Dev Choudhury.

"According to the new order from the transport ministry, we had asked for lifejackets and lifebuoys, depending upon the number of passengers, from the officials in each ghat. It will take time to develop this mechanism as most of the passengers board the vessel without tickets," said the director.

Choudhury said the cooperation of the passengers, enforcement cell, river police and city administration will be needed to enforce this rule.

"We must build up a mechanism where a passenger without a lifejacket may be held back and penalised," added Choudhury.

"We have 30-40 lifejackets and lifebuoys in this vessel; of which around 15 each are displayed. We will need more as sometimes more than 100 passengers board the vessel," said an official at the Guwahati-Madhyam Khanda ghat.

Lifebuoys and lifejackets in sufficient numbers were allegedly dumped at the storehouse of the IWT department in Guwahati-north Guwahati ghat on the day of he capsize here.

"The department had procured 1,400 and 2,000 lifebuoys and lifejackets respectively from the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) in 2014. This was the last supply we got. This was procured for the IWT Guwahati division, under which there are 47 ghats from Dhubri to Tezpur. Of these, 100 and 150 lifebuoys and lifejackets were issued for Guwahati-North Guwahati ghat," said an IWT department official.

"Most of the equipment is outdated. We shall procure more once we get the requirement from each ghat," said the director.

The director added that certification and availability of the equipment is a long procedure. "We cannot hurry the matter else there might be scams," said Choudhury.

"One lifebuoy can save up to four persons. Four laskars are assigned in each vessel to give the lifejackets during an emergency. But most safety procedures are not followed," said an official in the training section of the department.

"The department also gives less importance to producing a report on the stock of safety equipment asked by us before the rainy season. They always fail to produce the report in time," alleged the project officer of Kamrup (metro) under the Assam Disaster Management Authority.