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Sunday, 02 March 2008


Law enforcement, monitoring failure to blame

Carrying more people and goods than it had the capacity for and with an inefficient master at the helm, the single-decker ML Sourav 1 had been destined for doom when the sand-laden MV Ibrahim Modi hit it from the back. The launch capsized at the impact and sank with more than 200 people. Many managed to swim ashore; many other were trapped inside and drowned. As of Friday evening, 39 dead bodies, mostly of women and children, could be recovered. The body count is feared to go higher as scores remain missing, according to witnesses and officials. As is customary in such cases, the head of state and government expressed shock at the loss of so many lives and asked relevant authorities to intensify the rescue operation and ensure medical treatment for the injured passengers. The shipping adviser to the military-controlled interim government went to the spot and announced the formation of a five-member probe committee, which, according to him, had been asked to look into the causes of the accident and report back within 10 days. The chairman of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said the relatives of each victim would get Tk 2,000 for transport of the dead body and Tk 20,000 in compensation. If past experiences are any indicators, the probe report, which is highly unlikely to be made public, that is, if it is ever finalised and submitted, would identify overloading, structural flaws of the launch and inefficiency of the master as the primary causes of the accident and recommend a stringent compliance regime for inland water vessels. In the end, the government and its relevant departments and directorates, in all likelihood, would lose interest in the affair the moment the initial hue and cry over the tragedy dies down and the victims would become figures in the record book. The fact that 3,657 people have been killed in 408 river mishaps over the past 30 years, we believe, amply justifies our apprehension.  The inland water transport sector has been perennially plagued with a wide range of irregularities. Every time a major accident takes place, we come to know of the same reasons – overloading, unauthorised and faulty vessels, inefficient and unlicensed helmsman, absence of safety regulations, etc. However, successive governments have hardly acted on the preliminary findings to streamline the sector and bring the errant transport operators and their owners to book. According to the acting president of the Bangladesh Inland Waterways Passengers’ Association, a large number of unauthorised mechanical boats ply various river routes and cause accidents ‘almost every day’ and the government, despite repeated requests from the association, has not taken any steps ‘to control these boats.’ We wonder why. The government should realise the responsibility for so many deaths, although caused by the irregularities committed by the individual transport operator, ultimately falls on its shoulder. It is the government’s job to enforce the rules and regulations, and look out for any deviation by the water transport operators and owners. It should also realise that enforcement of rules and regulations and monitoring cannot be an episodic affair but be carried out round the clock and round the year.

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