Last Wednesday’s boat mishap in Thekkady, a tourist resort in Kerala, in which 45 people lost their lives, was an entirely avoidable tragedy. The dead included tourists from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and other states. The Thekkady mishap happened immediately after a boat capsize in Bihar in which at least 60 people died. The Bihar mishap could be partly attributed to natural causes because the boat sank in the Bagmati river which was in spate following heavy monsoon rains. But the Thekkady mishap was the result of human lapses and sheer negligence. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, which has conducted boat rides in the lake for decades, failed to ensure that the most basic safety precautions were taken in its boat. The facts that have come to light are all don’ts of a lake ride.
The boat, made of fibre glass, is not considered to have been suitable for the trip as it probably had construction faults. There were only the driver and a helper as members of the crew. The driver was not trained in operating fiberglass boats. More importantly, passengers were not given life jackets. The few life jackets which were there in the boat were found dumped in the engine room in unopened packets. Passengers were also not properly briefed on the safety measures and steps to be taken in an emergency. The boat was overcrowded and seems to have tipped up when the tourists moved to one side of the boat to watch wild animals onshore. But it is also suspected that a sudden manoeuvre by the driver caused it to topple. KTDC had not equipped itself with facilities for fast effective rescue operations. Even communication facilities were inadequate. There were no speed boats, trained rescue personnel or expert swimmers available at the centre. Even the number of people on the boat could not be ascertained correctly after the tragedy. There couldn’t be a worse way of running a resort which attracts tens of thousands of tourists every day from all parts of the country and abroad. A judicial inquiry has been ordered into the mishap. That does not help much. Safety precautions that need to be taken are all known. What is needed is the willingness of the staff to implement them and the determination of authorities to ensure that they are followed.