Kerala backwater tourism plays with riders’ lives

Thiruvananthapuram: An averted houseboat tragedy in the favourite tourist destination of Alappuzha, in which 13 sightseers narrowly escaped a watery grave, however, reveals the high safety risks that tourists may be bargaining for when they set out on these joy rides. A backwater ride is a much sought after item on any tourist itinerary to Kerala.

The world famous Alappuzha backwaters tourism attracts lakhs of tourists every year. But a series of incidents in recent days has revealed the callous manner in which the safety and security of these boat rides are compromised by the tour operators as well as authorities.

Thursday’s near-disaster occurred when the house boat carrying 13 tourists caught fire and the occupants had to jump into the water to save themselves. They escaped by the skin of their teeth by the sheer fact the water there was shallow.

The trouble-hit tourists complained that the boat did not have any of the promised safety and security features.

The fire safety arrangements simply failed to function when they were most required. The boat did not even have proper life jackets. Investigations conducted by local television channels revealed that nearly half the number of boats operating the tours had no licence.

All the boats are supposed to be equipped with GPS system, but most of the vessels do not have it. The boats do not even have proper insurance. It is said that the system of mandatory GPS facility was sabotaged by the lobby of bureaucrats and boat operators as it would affect the unlicensed boats. The district administration’s complicity in the sorry state of affairs is too obvious to be missed.

In the worst joyride boat tragedy in the state, 45 tourists died when a double-decker boat carrying 82 people sank in the Thekkady Lake in the Periyar National Park in 2009.

The victims were mostly tourists from Delhi and Kolkata. The horrible accident led to much hue and cry, but the Alappuzha incident shows that the situation continues to be bad.

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