GUWAHATI, Sept 9 - Realising the importance of the passengers travelling by mechanically propelled inland water vessels, the then British rulers formulated the Inland Vessels Act way back in 1917, which gave details of how such vessels should be regulated. But unfortunately, over the years, the respective governments in Assam failed to implement the Act to ensure passenger safety and even a set of proposals submitted to the government in 2012 in this regard were overlooked.
Only the tragedy in the Brahmaputra near North Guwahati on September 5 forced the government to impose a ban on plying of engine-fitted country boats in the Brahmaputra. But the ban is not properly enforced all along the river in Assam and is applied only in Guwahati.
The Inland Vessels Act, 1917 clearly indicated that all mechanically propelled boats having outboard engines should come under the purview of the Act and the Act is applicable to the entire country except Jammu and Kashmir. The Act is also not applicable for fishing boats and the boats registered under Merchant Shipping rules.
The Act clearly stated that no mechanically propelled boat would start a voyage without a certificate of survey. The respective State governments would have to appoint surveyors for carrying out detailed survey of the passenger carrying mechanically propelled boats to ensure their fitness and issue a certificate. The boats can ply on inland waters only after receiving such certificate from the government appointed surveyors. The surveyors would have to check all aspects of fitness of the boats including the engines and other parts before issuing such a certificate. The certificates would be given for one year only and after that a fresh survey would have to be carried out and the surveyors would have to be satisfied about the fitness of the vessels before issuing renewal certificate. No boat should be allowed to ply during the period of expiry of the certificate and renewal of the same, the Act said.
But unfortunately, the engine-fitted country boats plying in the rivers of the State were never surveyed and no one knows whether those are fit to carry passengers.
According to the Act, the number of passengers that a vessel can carry should be certified. Similarly, the nature and amount of cargo that a vessel can carry should also be certified and that can change from time to time depending on the time of the year. But the engine-fitted country boats plying in the Brahmaputra and other rivers of the State often carry more passengers than the prescribed limit and the authorities concerned never bothered to check it, thereby putting the lives of the passengers at risk.
The Act made by the British clearly indicated that all boats should be registered and a boat registered in one State should not be allowed to operate in another State. This rule is also flouted as engine-fitted country boats are plying without any registration and the government does not have the number of such boats plying in the rivers of the State. The Act also said the government can cancel the registration of any boat if the owner violates any of the rules. But in case of Assam, as the boats are not even registered, there is no question of cancellation of registration.
The Act outlined the qualifications that those plying the boats should be checked. There should be proper examination of the �masters� of the boats, the Act said. But this provision of the Act is not implemented in Assam as no one knows whether those steering the boats are qualified to do so or not.
Meanwhile, official sources said like many acts framed by the British rulers, the Inland Vessels Act is still in force in the country but the State government did not bother to frame rules for the implementation of it.