As Rama Kant Singh, a medical representative of Dhubri town, who frequently makes professional trip from Dhubri to Hatsingimari on the south bank of river Brahmaputra, alighted from a bhut-bhuti (engine fitted country made boat) at Jogomaya ghat in Dhubri town, the thought that came to his mind is Assam government’s promises made before the people six years back following the tragic boat capsize at Medattari.
Neither the administration nor the boat owners have learnt any lesson from the incident that happened exactly six years ago in which more than 40 people had lost their lives and eight went missing.
“Overloading is still a common feature of each and every bhut-bhuti, the lifeline of the people living on the other side of the river bank but not a single step so far has been taken with regard to the safety of the passengers even after the horrific incident occurred on the last day of April in 2012,” Singh added.
A TET teacher who also got off the same boat said the old and rickety boats still ply and there was hardly any lifejacket available at the time of an emergency.
Soon after the boat capsize incident, a number of political leaders starting from Tarun Gogai, the then chief minister to Union Minister including the Congress party president Rahul Gandhi as well as the then Shipping Minister, G K Vasan had visited the spot and made several assurance to uplift the river transportation including to construct as many as 12 jetties (ghats) across the river Brahmaputra.
They also assured about the inclusion of 200 steel boats in regular ferry service but even after six years, the scenario of the river transport remains unchanged.
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 had also ordered an inquiry into the incident on May 2, 2012, by then additional chief secretary Jitesh Khosla and asked him to submit his report within 30 days. But the same has not also been made public yet.
“The boatman’s as well as the owner are continuously flouting safety norms framed by the government by carrying more passengers than capacities,” an official of IWT, Dhubri on condition anonymity.
“No safety measure has ever been enforced by the administration due to political interference,” he said.
IWT officials further added that the main problems which the IWT has been facing in streamlining river transportation is the indifferent attitude of the panchayat and zilla parishad which run thousands of boats from the panchayat area by leasing out different ghats but without registering the boats with the IWT.
Nearly 4,000 boats which include fishing boats, dingy, bhut bhutis, engine-fitted large single boats and mar-boats (two enjoined boats) are plying on regular basis in river Brahmaputra in Dhubri district. But only around 1,500 of those were registered with either the IWT or the district administration and panchayat.