Gujarat HC pulls up Vadodara Municipal Corporation over Harni boat tragedy - Hindustan Times
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Gujarat HC pulls up Vadodara Municipal Corporation over Harni boat tragedy

Feb 22, 2024 10:51 AM IST

A boat carrying students and teachers out on a picnic capsized in Harni Lake in Vadodara on January 18, killing 12 students and two teachers

The Gujarat high court on Wednesday pulled up Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) for the Harni Lake tragedy saying that the authorities focused mainly on beautification and commercial activities at the waterbody and lacked the “mental faculty” to ensure public safety while granting contracts to a private entity.

Last week, the state government submitted a report to the court stating that four officials have been suspended. (Reuters photo)
Last week, the state government submitted a report to the court stating that four officials have been suspended. (Reuters photo)

The division bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha Mayee was hearing a sou motu PIL (public interest litigation) in the January 18 incident where a boat carrying students and teachers out on a picnic capsized in Harni Lake in Vadodara, killing 12 students and two teachers, while 18 students and two teachers were rescued.

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“You handed out a contract to him (contractor) without guidelines, deterrence and supervision. This is your waterbody. You are not only liable for its maintenance but also responsible for safety measures,” the CJ told the civic body’s lawyer.

Also Read: Gujarat Police arrest Paresh Shah, key accused in Vadodara boat capsize incident

When the lawyer argued about the scope for improvement, the judges remarked, “We are not your teachers to try to improve you. You are not a child who needs scolding or guidance for improvement. You are the authorities — officers expected to know their jobs.”

The judges said that the corporation only intended to ensure profits for the contractor without taking into account public safety.

“You simply hand it (to contractor). Earn money. This gives the idea that some kind of project is going on. Earn money, and the idea is that people can see that corporation has done some great things in the city that there are water sports in the lake. That is how you projected yourself.”

Last week, the state government submitted a report to the court stating that four officials have been suspended and 20 people have so far been arrested in the matter.

Of the 40 waterbodies in the state where amusement activities were halted following the Vadodara boat capsize incident, 21 places were found flouting safety standards.

The HC reiterated that the state should develop a policy regulating amusement activities in water bodies.

The judges also inquired if the government had issued written instructions to contractors about fixing accountability, imposing penalties and other provisions after the Harni Lake tragedy.

The HC insisted on mandatory registration and licence for boatmen as a precondition for allowing boating activity in water bodies.

The state government said it has constituted a committee to formulate guidelines regulating amusement activities in water bodies.

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