Shocked at the sheer magnitude of the tragedy at the Thekkady lake in Kerala last Wednesday, many consumers are asking questions about safety of boat rides at tourist spots in India. They also want to know how to ensure that the boat rides are risk-free.
I really welcome these questions because for too long, we have allowed government administrators to get away with negligence.
Overloading a boat, for example, is an absolute no-no. Yet, it is done without a thought to safety and despite a number of boat tragedies.
In the Wular lake (near Srinagar) a boat tragedy in 2006 led to the deaths of 21 children because 37 were crammed into a boat with a capacity to carry only 16. In the Thattekad lake mishap in Kerala in 2007, it was even worse — the boat was unfit for use and overloaded to several times its capacity. Eighteen died as a result.
Asks B Vikram: I was planning a dream holiday in Kerala with my wife this December. Should I still go ahead with it? How do I ensure that the boat rides are safe?
Answer: First and foremost, write to the Kerala State Tourism authorities asking them about the safety measures that they have put in place and whether there is any system of accountability in so far as enforcement is concerned.
Ask them specifically about the kind of boats that are pressed into service, whether they are certified as fit for use, the age of the boat, the boatman's experience, the quality and the number of life buoys and jackets available to passengers.
You should also check about lifeguards, first aid and other emergency facilities provided.
Demand a detailed answer and go only if you are convinced about the safety measures in place.
At the time of buying your ticket and getting into the boat too, you need to take several precautions and these apply to not just Kerala, but any destination where boats are pressed into service.
Ask the person issuing the ticket about the age of the boat, its certification, its capacity and the presence of life-saving equipment on the boat and emergency measures on the shore.
Refuse to get on to a boat that looks unsafe or in need of repairs. Insist on a life jacket and wear it properly before entering the boat. Do not allow those running the boat to overload it.