May 21,2023: Kerala backwaters saw a major achievemement with the inauguration of Kochi Water Metro service last month. But this was followed earlier this month by a tragic accident in a tourist boat in Tanur,Malappuram which claimed 22 lives.
On April 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Phase One of the Kochi Water Metro — a first-of-its- kind public boat service in India integrated with a metro rail network.
When completed this will be the largest, fully integrated metro water transport system in India -- and arguably in the world, covering 78 kilometres across the Kochi backwaters parallel to the coastand to the offshore Vypeen Island; the Vembanad brackish water lagoon (kayal), and the mouths of two rivers: Periyar and Muvattapuzha.
It will be served by 78 ecofriendly battery-operated twin-screw catamaran-type electric boats with hybrid traction
(standby diesel), with 50 and 100 passenger capacity in fully air conditioned cabins.
While ostensibly an urban transport system, that will integrate with the Kochi (rail) Metro, the new system of world class comfort on the waters is seen as a strong boost to tourism in the central Kerala region which is replete with popular backwater attractions.
Twenty-two people including many women and children drowned when a tourist boat capsized in the Poorapuzha estuary in Malappuram district of Kerala on May 7.
The Hindu writes in an editorial: “Every time a boat capsizes in Kerala, where inland cruise tourism is flourishing largely unregulated, the familiar refrain is that it was a tragedy waiting to happen.”
“The maritime board, vested with the responsibility to ensure the fitness, licensing and safe operation of all tourist vessels in Kerala including houseboats, has no enforcement wing to keep a tab on errant vessels including those that dodge periodic renewal of licence.”
“Boat tourism holds tremendous potential in a State lined with waterways, but to be able to reap its benefits, the safety of the people using it should be given top priority. The government should expeditiously arm the maritime board with the wherewithal to carry out enforcement. This will ensure that erring officials are taken to task and not just the boat crew and managers.”