The rush of people going home for the Eid holidays using water routes is a safety concern which the authorities must take seriously.
It is estimated that over 1 million people will be leaving Dhaka for Eid-ul-Azha, while stormy weather makes the Padma River waters quite dangerous, and our old and rickety water transport lacks adequate safety and security measures.
Unfortunately, while the desperation of holiday-makers leaves them with no alternative than to get on these dangerous vessels, experience tells us that these launches are accidents waiting to happen.
This year, dangers are exacerbated by the fact that strong currents and erosion in Padma River are making it difficult for ferries on Daulatdia-Paturia and Shimulia-Kewrakandi to transport passengers on schedule. Small launches are at great risk of capsizing in these conditions.
It is imperative that launches be equipped with life jackets, buoys, and fire-fighting equipment, as well as GPS systems and echo sounders. While larger vessels do have these things on board, the smaller launches do not, making night time journeys extra-hazardous.
We urge the BIWTA to help ensure safe and hassle-free travels on the waterways this Eid season. The government has already taken a few laudable steps, including the deployment of mobile teams on the ground to ensure launches do not carry passengers on their roofs, and installing CCTV cameras at terminals.
Let us not repeat the tragedies of the past. Needless deaths occur in launch disasters every year, deaths that could be avoided with up-to-date safety measures and stringent regulation. In the past, passenger limits and weight limits have been recklessly breached, and launch companies have continued to operate with impunity even after accidents that have cost lives.
Let us treat the lives of these passengers as precious and do all we can to avoid repeating past mistakes. Eid-ul-Azha is one of the two most festive occasions of the Muslim calendar. Let us not mar it with unnecessary tragedy.