By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Two tragedies in quick succession – a boat accident in Malappuram district which claimed 21 lives and the brutal murder of a house surgeon in Kollam district – have traumatised Kerala.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government has swung into quick action by ordering a comprehensive judicial investigation into the boat accident. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who visited Tanur in Malappuram district said the State Government would give Rs 10 lakh to the family of each of the victim. The Government will also bear the expenses of the treatment of the survivors, he added.
The accident underlines the urgent need to ensure the safety of boat passengers and tourists who visit the State. The recurrence of boat accidents is being attributed to the non-implementation of the recommendations by a commission of enquiry led by K. Narayana Kurup, which had probed the Kumarakom boat accident of July 2002, which snuffed out 29 lives. The report, submitted eight months after the tragedy, had blamed the poor condition of the boat, overloading and negligent conduct of the crew for the accident.
A key recommendation made by the commission was the appointment of a Safety Commissioner for Water Transport in the rank of Principal Secretary. What is happening now is that boat accidents with casualties occur frequently but are forgotten quickly too. The appointment of a Safety Commissioner would change the situation as the official would initiate quick follow-up action to improve the safety in the water transport sector situation. Unfortunately, the appointment never happened. That was bad enough. What is worse, many other shortcomings regarding passenger safety identified by the commission were not addressed either.
The Malappuram boat accident is also being ascribed to overloading, poor condition of the boats and lack of safety measures. In a quick action, the boat owner has been arrested. The Government has also formed a three-member judicial commission chaired by Justice V K Mohanan to probe the mishap. Four others, including the driver, have also been taken into custody.
How bad the situation is can be gauged from the fact that the trial in the case relating to the boat tragedy at Thekkady in 2009, which killed 45 boat passengers has not started yet although the Crime Branch submitted the second chargesheet in 2019!
In the second tragedy, a house surgeon was stabbed to death and several others were injured, when a patient attacked them with a pair of scissors at the Kottarakkara taluk hospital. Though the 25-year-old house surgeon, Vandana Das, was rushed to hospital, her life could not be saved. The accused, a 42-year-old teacher, who was under de-addiction treatment, attacked the doctor and staff with a pair of scissors grabbed from the hospital while they were dressing his wound. Widespread protests erupted all over the State following the gruesome incident. Doctors boycotted all services except emergency services. Here again, the Government swung into quick action and decided to bring an ordinance to amend a decade-old Act and bring in stringent provisions to prevent violence against medical staff. The ordinance will be brought in the next Cabinet meeting.
The unfortunate incident underscores the lack of safety for doctors and other hospital staff. Incidents of violence against doctors had increased. More than 200 incidents of violence had been reported in the last three years in the State. At a high-level meeting, the Chief Minister has directed the health and home departments to take joint steps to ensure the safety of health workers. The CM also stressed on the need to make extra security arrangements while bringing in patients with a history of violence to hospitals. He also emphasized the need to reduce crowds inside hospitals and on their premises.
The Indian Medical Association and the Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association strongly criticized the police for bringing in a random person without sufficient precautions to the casualty and for failing to stop him when he turned violent. The Kerala High Court also pulled up the police saying that it is the fundamental duty of any police officer to guard a citizen even at the coast of their lives. (IPA Service)