Thursday, February 13, 2014

WIO Advocacy Update on Hirakud Boat Tragedy that killed 31 people!

WIO Advocacy Update: 13th February 2014

Inspect All Ferry Boat Services in Odisha immediately, release the arrested boatman!

Water Initiatives Odisha urges upon Govt. of Odisha

On Sunday 9th February, when an overloaded ferry boat capsized in Hirakud reservoir waters, at least 31 people died.  Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) and its members are shocked by this incidence and mourn the deaths.  Our heartfelt condolences are with the family members, relatives and friends of the departed souls and we pray before almighty to give them the strength to withstand this disaster. 

What shocks us is the way in which this disaster happened.  With little precaution and sensible handling, this could have been avoided.  As we learn from locals and newspaper reports, the passengers – some regular commuters and a lot of picnickers – boarded in huge numbers on a small capacity boat which had no lifesaving equipment.  

As per locals more than 150 people that included women and children plus about 20 motorcycles were on board in a boat whose original capacity is about half of it.  Both the boatman and the passengers should have avoided this overloading.  Lack of monitoring, inspection and patrolling by the dam authorities added to this problem. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank and salute all the brave locals, boatmen, ODRAF team members and all others who jumped into the rescue operation.  It is for all of them that 85 lives were saved. However, it is also to introspect as the reservoir, which is such a huge manmade lake with lot of inherent problems, lacks basic disaster preparedness.  Had there been an ODRAF team with all facilities present in the reservoir at the moment, we are sure many more lives could have been saved.  On 9th, the locals, including boatmen, saved the drowned people.  The ODRAF reached very late. 

Inspection and Monitoring Necessary -

The dam authorities should immediately learn a lesson from this mishap, take responsibility of the disaster and step up disaster preparedness efforts to see that all ferry boats are legally plying, are safe and have all necessary safety and rescue equipment on place.  Further, proper and ample display boards with regard to capacity of boats, their owners and operators, safety measures etc. should be installed in all ferry ghats.  Patrolling for regular inspection should be in place immediately. 

Arresting the boatman is unjust, release him immediately -

WIO welcomes honourable Odisha High Court’s suo motu cognizance of the matter to seek status reports from concerned government departments within two weeks. We also welcome the RDC level inquiry ordered by the Chief Minister of Odisha.  However, we think the arrest of the boatman should have not been done.  Since inquiries have been ordered already, the boatman should be released until proven guilty.  Prima facie observations show that the boatman and the passengers could be equally responsible for the tragedy.  Further, the lack of inspections as per the existing ferry laws of the land also makes the concerned authorities responsible for the incidence.  Why a poor boatman should be arrested?

WIO urges upon the government of Odisha to release the boatman who has been arrested and take actions on all responsible for the tragedy as per the enquiry reports. Local sources said that the boatman himself has helped many passengers rescue and has done a brave act.  His this act should be recognized as well.  

Authorities also to blame -

In this tragedy, as it is learnt from local newspaper sources, the boat didn’t have a permission to ply passengers for about a year but it was plying daily with hundreds of passengers.  The highest authorities should take responsibility of this illegality and be brought under purview of the inquiry. 

We also urge upon the Govt. of Odisha to immediately inspect all the ferry boat facilities across the state and ensure safety of the passengers. Government should support boatmen with necessary financial and other helps to have better boats, trainings and life saving devices. 

For further information, please contact:

Ranjan Panda

Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha

Mobile: +91-9437050103/9937561700

Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.

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