Although the houseboat industry of Alappuzha saw its worst ever tragedy resulting in loss of four lives on January 26 this year, it is preparing to welcome more holidaymakers to this hotspot of backwater tourism without taking any of the precautions suggested by a 10-member committee of the government to improve its services.
This summer is likely to see only two jetties in use as 12 are in bad shape. In fact, several of the houseboats don’t even have proper parking facility and the new operators, issued licence by the government have not improved things either.
Ask All Kerala Houseboat Owners Association (AKHOA) general secretary, N Sreekumar, and he says the recommendations of the committee formed by the government in the wake of the Republic Day tragedy involving employees of a Chennai firm, are unacceptable.
Openly defiant of the panel’s suggestion made on February 25 that boarding passes be issued by the houseboats within three months, Sreekumar says the industry is unwilling to implement this as it could hit its business hard. “If the boarding passes are issued, our rivals will learn the identity of our agents and clients, which will be bad for business,” he argued, adding that as the association had received no fresh safety instructions from the port office for the summer season as yet, it planned to run the houseboats as usual.
But port officer Vinod of Alappuzha district, when contacted, claimed the port office had been regularly issuing guidelines on safety and training to all houseboat owners and crew. “We have been trying hard to implement safety measures similar to those in place at airports and railway stations. Life jackets, fire fighting equipment, and warning and alert signages are a must.
The presence of specially trained employees on board the houseboats has been made mandatory,” he said, also claiming that a team of port officials had been conducting periodic checks to ensure the safety of the boats.
And licenses for new houseboats were issued only after making sure they had all safety measures in place, according to him. The hub of the houseboat industry, Alappuzha has over 1000 houseboats in regular service.