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Duct Tape Fails to Hold Indian Ferry Above Water

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.

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  • Jim.

    “Not enough”. That’s very open-ended of you, sir.

    What would be enough? What could be enough?

    Could the government of the region possibly afford it?

    Are you after blood, or someone’s head? Now there’s a way to attract talent to get involved and fix the problem.

    Some places in this world just haven’t gotten themselves together yet. These things will happen. As far as I can see, the folks involved have made the start of an effort to fix the problem. What more they have the wherewithal to do, I don’t know; news sources I rely on haven’t provided details like that.

    Government cannot change India overnight. (“She is too big, and she is too old.”) The best we can do is help spread what aspects of Westernism that lead to the sort of material prosperity and control over nature that can prevent tragedies like this in the future.

    WRM, what originally brought me into contact with your work was the sense that you were seeking out what made the West successful. The idea that things can be improved, ought to be improved, is certainly part of that. But the worm gnawing at the root of the West is the sense that no expense must be spared in a vain attempt to make the world perfect.

    If I’m seeing that gnawing at the root of your intellectual pursuits as well, it’s only a matter of time before this site’s effectiveness as a source of useful discussion collapses like the Blue Model.

  • Kris

    Indian bus riders were baffled by the “scandal” around Romney’s dog.

  • Kris

    Jim@1: “Government cannot change India overnight.”

    Of course not. But according to many people who know India much better than me, too many people in government have no interest in even trying, or in providing any service to their constituents. If after a tragedy that they may have prevented [I have no idea], they do the minimum necessary to pacify the voters, well, surely that doesn’t impress you?

    And in an abrupt change of tone:

    “Duct Tape Fails to Hold Indian Ferry Above Water”

    Stop the presses! We’ve finally found something duct tape can’t do!

  • Luke Lea

    Talk about diversity: 1.2 billion people, three-quarters of whom live in 638,000 villages, each village stratified by endogenous castes. It has more than two thousand ethnic groups, according to Wikipedia. Every major religion is represented,as are four major families of languages (there are so many languages they count them by family!) again according to our friend Wikipedia: “Only the continent of Africa exceeds the linguistic, genetic and cultural diversity of the nation of India.” The average IQ appears to be somewhere in the eighties.

    If we work at it maybe we can be like that someday.

  • Gaurav


    Assuming you are a keen follower of Indian story, let me summarize it for you, Indian story, as overhyped (in many aspects) it is, has happened not because of government but despite it.

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