Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Sambalpur, Feb 13 :
Water Initiative Odisha (WIO), a Sambalpur-based NGO has in a press release issued today urged the state government to take serious note of the boat tragedy in the Hirakud reservoir on 9 February which claimed as many as 31 lives and put in place a foolproof system ensuring safety of people using ferry service in the state.
In the release issued by well-known water expert and WIO convener Ranjan Panda has said, “What shocks us is the way in which this disaster happened. With little precaution and sensible handling, this could have been avoided”,
Panda has rued the fact that the passengers who boarded the boat in huge numbers , far beyond its capacity, had no lifesaving equipment.
“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”, said Mr. Panda adding, “lack of monitoring, inspection and patrolling by the dam authorities added to this problem”.
While saluting all the brave local people, boatmen, ODRAF team members and all others who joined the rescue operation and saved more than 100 lives Panda said it is time to find out why the reservoir, which is such a huge man-made 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”, Panda said.
The dam authorities should immediately learn a lesson from this mishap, take the responsibility for 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 in place,the WIO release said.
” 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”, the release demanded.
Welcoming the Odisha High Court’s suo motu cognizance of the matter and the RDC level inquirythe WIO release, however, has disapproved of the arrest of the boat driver.
“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?” Panda asked.
“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 inquiry reports”, said Panda.
“Local sources said the boatman himself has helped many passengers rescue and has done a brave act. His this act should be recognized as well,” he said.
“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”, said Panda, adding, “government should support boatmen with necessary financial and other help to have better boats, training and life saving devices.”