Ferrytale - 1

Taking us for a ride

Look around and watch the cars our ministers, MLAs and Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers travel in.  There is never a shortage of official four wheels or the latest model update on the road.  From another viewpoint, there seem to be as many government vehicles in and around Panjim as there are migrants in and around Panjim.


You would think this government ran on wheels, freewheeling as it is with your tax money.  It even has a marine police wing whose largest boat would cruise down the Mandovi till about a year and a half ago with the kids of some senior cop or IAS type on board.

More to the point, there at present 37 ferry vessels.  Twenty-three of them are in working condition or barely floating. Of this critically stretched fleet of 37 vessels, 28 are needed to provide a normal service as defined by the government, not me.  In other words, there is a shortfall of five.  The figure of five is what the government claims and is based on the fact 23 ferries are in working condition.  So, because the figure of 37 ferries could be far more than what is actually required to provide a decent on-time service, the figure of five could be meaningless.  But then governments love to throw stats at you.  But, we who travel in ferries know better.

River ripples

Somewhere in this huge heap of virtual scrap metal, officials say are 14 ferries awaiting repairs of which 10 require major repairs.  Major repairs in shipping lingo could mean bottom plate replacement or even engine overhaul.  What I am saying here is we might not just have a fleet of ferries sooner than later or, at best (worst?) the 23 figure could go down progressively or quickly.  No one knows.  Factor in the government has a budget of just Rs 50,00,000 per annum for maintenance and to buy spares for its fleet.

Over the past seven years, no external ship repairer has been hired to repair these ferries as it was felt that there was no real need for this.  This is the official line.  The government bought 12 ferry boats single engine, single bottomed at a cost of approx Rs 22,00,000 each between 1998-2000.  Normally, a new ferry does not need to be repaired for the first six years or so.  Quite clearly the government slept over the issue of replenishing its fleet of ageing vessels.  Carrying out major repairs to a ferry at today’s prices could cost up to Rs 30,00,000 and involves overhauling of the vessel’s bottom and sides.  And yet several hundred times this amount is wasted each time the government thinks of constructing some totally unwanted building.  In fact, a fraction of its own gas bill would pay for the cost of a brand new fleet of much wanted ferries.

What do you expect when politicians row your boat?

The process to repair six ferries began two years ago, but due to politicking especially in the Legislative Assembly, the tenders have been delayed.  Result: The politicians looked good, we suffered.  Now, the re-tendering process will reportedly begin this month and after that, the contracts will be awarded after due process.  Amen to that.  Repairs to a ferry normally take about 45 days and; if the ship repairer has the capacity to handle three vessels simultaneously, it would take nearly 90 days for the six ferries to be repaired.  But, the tender process must be completed, the politicking must end, and a government must be in place or else you can say sayonara to your dream of having an acceptable river crossing service.

But, there’s still a problem I have not been able to make sense of.  And that is, it appears the government will sanction only Rs 50,00,000 as token money towards this repair work.  This is against the approximately Rs 2,00,00,000  it would require to repair these boats.  This, the government has to sanction out of a contingency fund. But what this government needs to really do is to immediately invite bids to construct six new ferry boats which will cost nearly Rs 75,00,000 each.  These new ferries must have twin engines for better speed and maneuverability especially to avoid colliding with barges plying in diametrically opposite directions.

If this can be a smooth process, then the bidder who is awarded the contract must deliver a ferry within the stipulated period of 100 days.  But, as in the case of a simple matter of repairing six ferries, this has languished for two years.  My final point being you can kiss goodbye to your ferry problem being resolved for several more years.