In deep waters

Accidents during boat rides are very common, yet we do not bother about safety measures, observes Pushpa Girimaji 

A boat carrying 50 pilgrims capsized in the Gomti in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh in June 2004. The pilgrims were on their way to the Barechavir temple. About 20 pilgrims swam to safety while the rest were feared dead.

Such accidents are not rare in India. Yet, neither the users nor those who run the service, bother about safety.

The situation is no better at tourist spots offering boat rides. Despite the fact that entire families, including children, go on these boat rides, safety measures are absolutely lacking at many of these places. Barring some exceptions, lifejackets and lifebuoys are unheard of. So also trained lifeguards and communication facilities and even emergency first aid provisions in case of an accident.

There is no contingency plan at all for any untoward happening. Even those who row or navigate the boats are not trained for rescue operations. So whether you are on a pilgrimage or a pleasure trip, or just crossing the river to reach a village, you have to follow certain basic safety precautions and force those who offer the boat rides also to follow them.

If a boatman in a small village says that luxuries such as life jackets can only be provided at tourist spots, do not relent. Whether it is a poor villager or a rich tourist, every life is precious and compared to the consequences of a boat tragedy and the loss of life, what is spent in buying safety equipment is negligible. A poor boat owner can take loan from a bank to buy safety equipment. But there can be no compromise on safety.

The apex consumer court has made it clear that it would not condone such laxity in safety standards. Its order in the case of Wg Cdr P. S. Sandhu Vs the Union of India (OP no 251 of 1992, decided on 17-6-1997) points out the safety requirements for boat rides and emphasises what constitutes safety flaws. The provision of adequate number of life jackets in a boat is mandatory. Similarly, the boatman should be trained in assisting passengers in distress. There should be trained lifeguards, first aid and resuscitation facilities, besides adequate communication facilities.

Lack of these measures could lead to loss of life as happened in the case of Sandhu. Sandhu and his family had gone on a picnic to the Barapani lake along with friends. Fifteen of them got on to the boat at the boat club run by the Army. However, tragedy struck when the boat capsized in the middle of the lake, resulting in the death of four passengers, including Sandhuís wife.

So the next time you plan to go on a boat cruise, ask some basic questions on safety: What is the capacity of the boat? How many passengers is it supposed to carry? Are they providing the adequate number of life jackets for all those travelling on the boat? Are there enough lifebuoys to hold on to in case of an accident? How experienced is the person handling the boat? Are there any first aid facilities? How well prepared are they for such an eventuality?

Warn the boatman that he can be hauled up before the consumer court in case of an accident.

Itís time we, as consumers, began thinking about safety and started enforcing safety regulations.