country boats
Representative image. Photo: Northeast Now

Despite a series of bhut-bhuti (read mechanised country boats) mishaps taking place in Assam in the month of September this year – beginning with the September 5 boat capsize in River Brahmaputra in which three people were killed after a boat carrying approximately 50 passengers capsized in the BrahmaputraRiver in North Guwahati near the Aswaklanta Temple – the country boats are merrily plying in different river ghats of Dhubri district.

The Dhubri district administration launched a drive against the boat operators on Saturday but till the time of filing of this report, nothing has been seized.  Jay Sankar Sarma,Circle Officer,Dhubri, who led the drive told media persons that the verification of documents in possession of the boat operators are under way and necessary action will be initiated accordingly.

These boats are plying right under the nose of the Inland Water Transport Department (IWTD) officials in Dhubri causing great risk to the life of passengers. Rather than pulling up their socks, these IWTD officials prefer to be ‘mute spectators’.

The IWTD authorities have not even learnt a lesson from the worst-ever boat capsize to have happened in Dhubri in the year 2012 in Medertari – On April 30, 2012, more than 40 people had died and eight had gone missing when a ferry carrying around 300 passengers had got caught in a storm. Even six years after the Medertari mishap, “irregularities” continue to plague the river transport system in Assam despite “big plans” made by successive Governments in Dispur.

The State Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary has recently declared that no mechanised country boats (bhut-bhutis) will be allowed to ply on the entire river system of the Brahmaputra till further order. He has also announced that all single-engine ferries have to be converted to double-engine ones with reversible gears.

Nearly 4,000 engine-fitted country boats are plying on a daily basis across the different river ghats of Dhubri district – out of these 4,000 boats, only 700 are registered with the IWTD Department. The rest of these boat operators are flouting all rules and plying their respective ferries merrily. Overcrowded boats are a common sight.

Speaking to Northeast Now, N Deka, Sectional Officer, IWTD, said, “I have issued notices to all the boat operators to follow safety rules ‘to the T’. As IWTD has no vessel of their own, it is nigh impossible to ban the plying of boats on River Brahmaputra because people have no other mode of communication.”

Cashing in on the situation are the private boat operators who are charging hefty fares, flouting all safety norms and laughing all the way to the bank. It is also being alleged that the IWT Department and boat mafias are hands-in-gloves. The IWT Department has reportedly “dumped” all Government-owned ferries on the ground that it entails huge “maintenance cost”. But, the surprising fact is that more than 89 regular employees and nearly 17 muster roll employees have been posted in Dhubri only to maintain the different river ghats and ferry service which remains only on paper. It is a different matter that these employees are drawing their salaries on a regular basis!

A source revealed that maximum numbers of employees posted in Dhubri district headquarter of IWTD were drawing a fixed amount of salary every month while staying back in their respective villages all the while!

Mukesh Kr Singh

Mukesh Kr Singh is Northeast Now Correspondent in Dhubri. He can be reached at: mkdhubri@gmail.com

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