Kerala HC raps state govt on Thekkady boat tragedy

Kochi: Rapping the state government for not taking sufficient protective steps to avert the Thekkady boat tragedy that claimed 45 lives, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday said there were defects in construction of the ferry which was carrying passengers beyond its permitted limit.

Granting bail to the five accused including the boat driver, Justice K T Shankaran expressed dissatisfaction over the infrastructure provided to conduct safety tests on boats.

"The state of Kerala has witnessed several boat accidents. After the incidents, we start lamenting. Then we indulge in finding who is responsible for it. Sometimes a commission may be appointed. Nobody knows what happens to the commission report," the court said.

The court said prima facie the tender to construct the boat 'Jalakanyka' was given without scientific study.

"Required safety checks were not carried out. It has been reported there was a 2.9 degree slant in the boat," it said.

More passengers were taken on board though tickets were issued only to 75 persons. The driver, lesker and forest department gatekeeper were responsible for allowing more passengers to board the boat, the court said, adding that they used to indulge in such practice and divide the profits.

The court found that the boat driver, Victor Samuel, was not well experienced and had taken charge on Sept 20 this year, 10 days before the mishap.

On the day of the incident, at least 10 additional passengers were on board the vessel, which had a slant towards the right from the beginning. Enough life-jackets or sufficient number of buoys were also not available on board.

The court said the state-run Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, which spent Rs 42 lakh for the boat, did not derive the benefit of the amount it spent, nor did the tourists get the benefit of safety.

"This is a matter to be seriously taken note of by the state," it said.

Those granted bail included boat driver Victor Samuel, sub crew Lasker Anish, gatekeeper P Prakash, Director of Vignesh Marine Services, Chennai, N A Giri and Chief Surveyor of Indian Registrar of Ships, K K Sajeev. They have been asked to deposit a bail bond of Rs 50,000 each and two solvent sureties for a like amount.

"We have seen several tragedies affecting the lives of hundreds of citizens. I think it is high time a graver punishment is provided for the offences alleged under sections 280 and 282 and make those offences non-bailable. This is a matter to be considered by Parliament and not to be dictated by the court," Justice Sankaran said while granting bail.

For offences under these two sections, six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1000 is prescribed under IPC, the court said and pointed out these sections provide for 'meagre' punishment.

The tourist boat owned by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation capsized in Thekkady lake while ferrying over 70 tourists on September 30.

Bureau Report