The Kerala High Court today termed as "shocking" and "haunting" the boat accident at Tanur area of Malappuram district two days ago that claimed 22 lives, including 15 children, and initiated a PIL on its own to find out why the authorities allowed the vessel to operate by allegedly flouting rules.

A vacation bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Shoba Annamma Eapen said their "hearts were bleeding" and they "underwent sleepless nights" after seeing the lifeless bodies of the children.

The Court said such accidents have been happening in the state since 1924 with "frightening regularity" solely due to the deadly cocktail of callousness, greed and official apathy. It arraigned the Kerala government, the District Tourism Promotion Council of Malappuram, the police chief and Collector of that district, Tanur Municipality, Port Officer, Alappuzha and senior Port Conservator, Beypore as initial respondents in the PIL which is slated to be heard next on May 12.

Before the next date of hearing, the Malappuram District Collector was directed to file a report on the matter keeping in mind his additional role of chairperson of the District Disaster Management Authority, the court said.

Initiating the petition on its own, the bench said many more such incidents may happen "unless we put our foot firmly down" as the "patently visible" causal factors of overloading, blatant violation of statutory laws and skipping of essential safety requirements were being repeated with impunity and "without fear, care or caution".

The bench said that prima facie, had the officials and authorities who were duty bound to monitor such boating operations done so, this mishap like the several earlier ones would have never happened.

The Court said that every such tragedy "triggers" a routine investigation followed by recommendations that go "unheeded" thereafter.

"The obdurate refusal to follow and enforce the most basic safety protocols which are taken for granted in the civilised world is the most infuriating, to say the least. More so since our state has hundreds of boats in tourism and further such incidents, though unthinkable, are waiting to happen somewhere, someplace, if the present state of affairs is allowed to continue," the bench said.

The Court said the responsibility and onus of the officials and authorities was much more than that of the boat operators' as it was the "deliberate and other support" for their illegal actions that allowed violations to be "perpetrated with no fear of law".

"Their (officials and authorities) responsibility and onus is no lesser if not much more than that of the operators since it is because the latter's illegal actions obtained deliberate and other support that violations are perpetrated with no fear of law. The final loss is to the citizens and no others because instances like this are erased from memory soon. Judicial intervention, therefore, in our firm view, now becomes necessitous lest the unfortunate loss of lives is forgotten," the bench said.

In its order, dictated in open court, the bench said that boating tragedies were happening in the state with "frightening regularity" since 1924 when Kerala lost Mahakavi Kumaranasan, one of the triumvirate poets of Kerala, when a boat from Kollam to Kottayam sank at Palana.

"From a boat which capsized in 1924 killing 24 persons, including Mahakavi Kumaranasan, to the 'Jalakanyaka' (a double-decker passenger boat) which went down in 2009 at Idukki killing 45 and other poseidon tragedies with lower fatalities happening thereafter with frightening regularity ...the citizens seem justifiably indurated to the news of loss of lives caused solely by the deadly cocktail of callousness, indifference, greed and official apathy," the court said.

Prior to dictating the order, the bench said it was initiating the PIL as it wanted to know why none of the officials or the authorities were aware that such a boat was operating at Tanur in violation of the rules.

"How is something like this going on and no one knew?" it asked.

"It was a shockwave for us. Our hearts are bleeding. The lifeless bodies of the children make it difficult for us to sleep. It is haunting. We will not let it be forgotten. We cannot let it happen again," the Court added.

The bench further said that had the officials been held accountable for such tragedies in the past, the latest one could have been avoided.

The Court said that every time such tragedies occur, the state government immediately steps in and gives monetary compensation which is welcome.

On Monday, the Kerala government had announced a judicial probe into the matter and decided to give a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased.

"However, has the money been recovered from the officials concerned? Was any such action taken against them in the past? If people had been held accountable, it (Tanur boat accident) may not have happened. To prevent it from happening again, fear of the law must enter everyone's hearts," the bench said.

The Court said history will not treat lightly those who close their eyes to such incidents.

In the boating accident at Tanur, the boat capsized near an estuary close to the Thoovaltheeram beach there around 7.30 pm on Sunday. According to district officials, 15 of the deceased were minors aged eight months to 17 years and there were 37 persons onboard the ill-fated boat.

The owner of the boat was caught from Kozhikode on Monday and on Tuesday, the police constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the tragic boat accident.

With PTI Inputs