Whenever Eid-ul-Fitr looms on the horizon, it is common to find operators of river vessels scampering to meet the high volume of passengers. Every year, we find launch owners get busy repairing defective vessels that gives a new look for a quick profit; but these are actually cosmetic changes. Unfortunately, the repair is skin deep only and unfit vessels end up plying river routes endangering the lives of hundreds, especially at the time of Eid festivals.
The reality is that about half the vessels lack registration and do not bother about the annual fitness certificates that are mandatory. Then of course there are some 30,000 mechanised boats which are not registered with the Department of Shipping (DoS). According to a research study by BUET’s Accident Research Institute, at least 1,430 people were killed in 264 riverine accidents between 2005 and 2017. These accidents and the number of injuries and deaths pile up during the Eid festivities.
So why are so many unfit vessels allowed to operate? While the collusion between corrupt officials and vessel owners is well-known, the other major reason is the lack of ship surveyors. It is ridiculous that there only five ship surveyors to check fitness of vehicles. Precisely how these few surveyors are going to inspect and certify thousands of vessels is anyone’s guess and it opens up the opportunity of graft on a mass scale. With lax oversight and monitoring, vessels can and are operated by unskilled hands who may not have the right skillset to use navigational instruments like radar, GPS (global positioning system), VHF (very high frequency), etc.
While oversight is a constant mandated responsibility of the authorities, it assumes more importance during festivals when the number of travellers on river routes increases manifold. And this is the time when decrepit vessels are primed up to appear fit. The relevant agencies must ensure that all vessels are river-worthy. Human lives must come before monetary considerations.