NORTH LAKHIMPUR, Sept 14 - The ferry service in the inland waterways of Lakhimpur district has been operating since the colonial period. Steamers sailed up to Badatighat near Bihpuria and people from either side of the Brahmaputra crossed the Lohit and Khabolu to visit North Lakhimpur or Jorhat via Majuli.
The ferry service from Matmora in Dhakuwakhona connected Disangmukh in Sivasagar district and people used these waterways despite the poor road connectivity to these ghats. Apart from these ferry ghats, there are more than half a dozen inland waterways along the Subansiri river connecting various far-flung places which are not connected by road even in the 21st century.
However, all these inland waterway ferry services are running on vessels that have no safety provisions. Even the minimum safety standards like life jackets and aired tubes are not kept by the boat operators, thereby forcing the passengers to cross the rivers at their own risk.
Though Badatighat near Bihpuria is no longer used due to unabated erosion, another ghat has come up at Dhunaguri that is used by ferries to transport passengers and vehicles to Chenimarighat in Majuli en route to Kamalabari.
At the Dhunaguri ghat, the engine boats have no safety measures for passengers and there is no limit to the number of passengers. As a result, most of the boats are overloaded with people, vehicles, both four and two-wheelers, along with cargo and cattle.
Before the start of the journey in these river services, the crew also does not inform the passengers about safety measures. Nor do the ferries keep any distress signal device or fire extinguisher. Most of these boats and ferries are not insured for third-party risks and do not have any certificate of survey and license.
The same state of affairs prevails in the other ghats in Lakhimpur district like Bhimpora (Borghat), Bodhakora-Namoni Dorge ghat, Dorge-Taku ghat, No 1 Gereki ghat, Bhurbondha-Moghuwachuk ghat, Khabolughat, Luhitghat, Silikhagurighat, and Jamugurighat.
Most of the vessels are old with weak body and engine conditions. Their engines fail in the middle of the waterways at regular intervals, leaving the passengers in great danger.
Moreover, small hand-oared boats and engine boats � also known as Bhutbhuti � picking an unlimited number of passengers as larger ferries have various limitations.
There is no personnel from the IWT department in these ferry ghats, leaving the ferry service operators to have a free hand without caring for the safety of the passengers.
The operators also charge heavy amounts to transport cars and other vehicles across the river.
In the financial year 2017-18, the Bodoti (Dhunaguri), Matmora, Ghagor, Khabolu and Luhit IWT ghats in Lakhimpur under Dibrugarh division earned Rs 15.69 lakh as revenue ferrying 2,38,697 passengers, 15,826 quintals of cargo, 88 vehicles, 1,03,073 two-wheelers, 65,693 bicycles and 738 animals.
These unauthorised ferry services have been running on in these inland waterways unchecked by the government. To avoid tragedies like the one in North Guwahati recently, safety norms need to be strictly enforced in the inland waterways of Lakhimpur.