.........JAGATSINGHPUR: Rickety, old boats continue to ferry people without licence from one ghat to another in different parts of Jagatsinghpur. Worse still, these country and motorised boats do not have life jackets for passengers’ safety despite a directive in this regard by the State Government.
Boats are one of the most sought after modes of communication for people of rural parts of the district. People of Jamboo, Kharnasi, Ramnagar and Batighar in Kendrapara district come to Paradip every day by crossing river Mahanadi in boats through Bahakuda Musadiha ferry ghat, which is considered the shortest waterway route between Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara districts. In 2008, eleven youths had died in a boat mishap at Bahakuda Musadiha ferry ghat.
Apart from this, there are 50 ghats in different panchayats of the district which see plying of hundreds of country boats and 30 to 40 motor boats operating every day through ghats. Little is being done to check if the boats have licence to ferry people and adequate life-saving equipment, including life jackets, for safety of passengers on board. If sources are to be believed, 70 per cent of these boats do not have licence.
Boats overcrowded with passengers and vehicles such as cycles and motorcycles are a common sight in rivers of the district. Safety has taken a back seat as surprise inspections are never conducted by the officials concerned. Following the boat tragedy in Hirakud in February 2014 which had claimed 24 lives, the State Government had ordered a crackdown on boats operating without safety clearance.
On April 30, 2014, the Department of Commerce and Transport had designated all the BDOs as enforcement officers to check illegal plying of boats, their registration and safety measures in the water bodies as per Odisha Boat Rules, 2004 in their respective jurisdictions. However, this government circular has been placed in cold storage and no survey has ever been done by any BDO in the district. In 2014, five persons, including four minor girls, had died when a country boat overturned in river Devi at Biridi.
Deputy Collector (emergency) Satyanarayan Das admitted to lack of enforcement by the district administration in checking plying of unlicensed boats and safety measures . So far, only 29 boats in the district, including the highest of 10 in Kujang, have been registered and hold insurance certificates, according to official reports.