The boat tragedy that claimed 23 lives in River Krishna at Vijayawada on Sunday, 12 November, is a wake-up call for all government officials who are over-zealously pushing business ventures in the name of Ease of Doing Business (EoDB). The boat, which caused the tragedy, was without a licence and lifejackets and is an example of flagrant violation of norms in the guise of business friendliness by tourism officials. 

The old fishing boat was remodelled as a tourist boat and was owned by a bus driver with the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) which is on an overdrive to push tourism projects. However, the driver, Gedela Srinivas Rao, is only a front man for a clutch of senior officials of APTDC who floated a tourism venture, River Boating and Adventures Private Limited, to run the business at Vijayawada.

The illegal boat run by the firm had a capacity for only 10 persons, but on Sunday, it was filled with 44 persons, including three staff, and capsized in the middle of the river, which is full of water, upstream of Prakasam Barrage. The boat was sailing without any valid licence or permits to ferry tourists. This illegal private boat was prevented from sailing in the river on Sunday morning by the APTDC’s official boat staff. But the private boat resumed operations evening when the corporation staff had gone from the river banks. Tourist boats make a whole lot of money on weekends on the Krishna River near Vijayawada.   

Vijayawada City Police Commissioner Gautam Sawang, who is monitoring the case, told The Sunday Guardian that Srinivas appeared to be a front-man to other hidden officials in the tourism department and the investigation would unearth all those who were behind running the illegal boat. Till now, the police had arrested seven people in the case and some more would be arrested soon, he said.

The police are looking into the fact that an ordinary driver had no financial strength to float a tourism project by mobilising around Rs 74 lakh as capital, amid reports that he could be a front-man to many higher-ups in the corporation, which is ahead of other departments in EoDB rankings in AP.

River Boating and Adventures Private Limited had entered into an MoU with the Andhra Pradesh government at the Partnership Summit held in Visakhapatnam in January last week this year. Srinivas, his wife Lakshmi, his friends Seshamoda Kondala Rao and Neelam Sheshagiri Rao are the directors of the private company. Kondala Rao signed the MoU to develop tourism at Vijayawada with a total investment of Rs 150 crore. 

As Srinivas Rao is an insider, he got information in advance about notifications issued by APTDC for the development of certain projects, including river boating, at Bhavani Islands in the middle of Krishna River at Vijayawada. The promoters of the boating venture were aware of the provisions of the EoDB framework which permit them to start the project within the stipulated one month after applying for permissions. They started their activities even before necessary clearances were given.

Earlier, a company could start operations only after securing all relevant permissions and clearances. The government’s eagerness to score on EoDB has changed the norms, a senior official of APTDC told this newspaper.

Taking advantage of the hurry with which the APTDC was pushing some tourism development projects at the Partnership Summit, a few of the higher ups of the corporation had formed this private limited company and submitted proposals which were accepted by the same corporation.

Srinivas Rao is understood to have revealed to the police the names of other benami investors in the company.


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