16th January 2017
Drowned by state failure
The boat disaster in the Ganga on Makar Sankranti day that killed at least 24 people is another reminder that safety in public transport remains a low priority for governments. As with road accidents, mishaps in the inland waterways and lakes take a terrible toll of lives regularly, with no effective administrative response. In the Ganga Diara tragedy near Patna, a large number of people had apparently crammed themselves into a small vessel for a free ride after witnessing a kite festival. The relief offered to the kin of the dead and injured both by the Centre and the Bihar government should not, however, obscure the fact that the loss of life was entirely the result of official failures. This was obviously the result of serious neglect of safety norms for which accountability must be fixed. It is essential that a judicial commission be constituted to inquire into the incident, to determine whether the laws on transport using inland waterways are being implemented and to issue directions for the future. The country boat involved appears not to have used its engine at the time of the accident, but the absence of safety training for operators is painfully evident.
The Centre, which talks of a paradigm shift in freight and passenger transport using inland waterways, should respond to the shameful national record on boat safety by firmly implementing existing laws and introducing new measures along with the States. Just last year it expanded the National Waterways programme and notified several stretches of rivers and canals for a new deal for inland water transport. Under the amendments to the colonial-era Inland Vessels Act made in 2007 — which is to be further modernised — it is incumbent on the States to apply some provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act to accidents, compensation and insurance against third-party risks for powered boats. Just as in the case of motor vehicles, registration of inland vessels other than small personal non-powered craft must be made mandatory. This will help enforce construction standards, subsidy for transport boats, passenger insurance and accident compensation. In the latest tragedy, the problem also appears to have been inadequate supply, which forced people to pack themselves into the available boats. If this is true, the Bihar government must own full responsibility and prevent a recurrence. The heart-rending spectacle of children and their kin perishing on what should have been a day of celebration must stir the conscience of governments whose duty it is to provide safe and adequate public transport, and one at which they fail badly.
The Gujarat cricket model
Few would have picked Gujarat to win the Ranji Trophy when the domestic season began. It is not one of Indian cricket’s traditional powerhouses, and underdog stories seldom sustain themselves over the course of a long, sapping tournament. When Parthiv Patel’s side made the final, the popular perception was that it had gone as far as it could go. For, the title round, on paper, appeared the most unequal of contests: in one corner, Mumbai, a 41-time champion, and in the other, Gujarat, here for the first time since 1951. But Gujarat has paid history little heed over the last few seasons; indeed, there has been a concerted effort since Parthiv took over, to break from the past. The results have followed. Gujarat won its maiden national title, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (Twenty20), in 2012-13 and regained it in 2014-15. It then claimed its first domestic 50-over title, the Vijay Hazare Trophy, last season. These breakthroughs helped fill the side with the belief that the Ranji Trophy, although significantly more difficult to win, was not an unrealistic ambition. It is this conviction that proved the difference on a tense final day as Gujarat pulled off the highest chase (313 for five) in a Ranji final, consigning Mumbai to only its fifth runner-up finish.
Parthiv led by example right through, saving his finest for the tournament’s most important moment. His 143 in the fourth innings against Mumbai was a remarkable exhibition of grace under fire. He has also played a significant role behind the scenes in Gujarat’s revolution, establishing an honest, transparent culture within the team. The responsibility for the final decision still rests with the management, but everyone is encouraged to speak up. Several domestic sides across India are plagued by cricketers looking after their interests first and therefore pulling in different directions. Gujarat, by all accounts, has been successful in addressing this problem. The team has also ensured that a talented generation which played junior cricket together was offered all the support and patience it needed to make the transition to the next level. Opener Priyank Panchal provided the batting spine, topping the Ranji table with 1310 runs, while fast-bowler Jasprit Bumrah and left-arm spinner Axar Patel changed the dynamic of the side, adding a cutting edge to the bowling. Gujarat was also not wary of looking outside the State for solutions. Experienced Uttar Pradesh left-armer R.P. Singh was signed to both fill in when Bumrah was away on national duty and mentor the seam-attack. As Parthiv said after the final, Gujarat had a long-term plan and the structure to implement it. This was a triumph born from a big dream, and kept alive by a painstaking attention to detail.