Rescuers are still searching for scores of missing people after a ferry broke apart and sunk in bad weather crossing the Brahmaputra River in India’s northeastern Assam province on Monday. More than one hundred have been confirmed dead already.Indian authorities have been skimping on infrastructure maintenance for years. In Assam and elsewhere, dilapidated roads and nonexistent bridges make river travel the primary means of transportation for many people. But ferry boats are held together with spit and duct tape, and are badly in need of real repairs. More often than not they’re packed to the bursting point with people and goods, making trips in bad weather that much more dangerous.The ferry boats aren’t the only blight on India’s transportation system. India’s trains are notorious for sluggish speeds, crowded compartments, bad rail and car maintenance, and extremely poor safety oversight. Trains often arrive hours or even days late.Yet serious investment in repair and modernization of India’s transportation infrastructure is nowhere in sight. Politicians and businesses profit from incremental repairs; when disaster strikes, this is how they respond:
The state government in Assam announced an interim compensation of about $3,000 for the families of the dead, and about $1,000 for the injured. Twenty-eight local politicians pledged to donate one month of their salaries to families of those who were killed. . . .Assam’s chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, promised a thorough probe into the cause of the accident. . . .The state’s transport minister, Chandan Brahma, said that a study to build a bridge over the river is underway.
For the hundreds dead and their families in Assam, and for the victims of the next disaster, this is not enough.