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It's job call, can't vote in Lok Sabha polls: Jorhat-Majuli ferry operators

Its job call, cant vote in Lok Sabha polls: Jorhat-Majuli ferry operators

Image Source: X

Nimati Ghat, April 7: At a time when the Election Commission of India is leaving no stone unturned to ensure maximum participation in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, a few people whose job is to run the daily ferry service in the world's largest river Island of Majuli, will miss the voting as they cannot leave their work for a single day.

On these 25-odd people's expertise, the entire communication to the river island is dependent, as they are the only ones who drive the ferries between Jorhat's Nimati Ghat and Majuli every day. The ferry service connects the river island to the mainland. Though these nine twin-engine ferries are run by the Inland Water Transport (IWT) Department of Assam, all of them have their masters and drivers from a private firm in West Bengal.

One such ferry, MV Lohit, has Tahidul Molla as master and Mustak Ahmed as driver, both hailing from Diamond Harbour in the neighbouring state.

''My vote is in Kolkata. I want to go, but I don't think it will be possible to get leave in those days,'' Molla told PTI while sitting behind the helm en route to Kamalabari ghat in Majuli.

He said every vessel has six employees, of whom three are IWT staff and the rest are from the Kolkata-based Ali Enterprise.

''We go to our homes once every three months. We will not be able to go to this coming Eid festival either. That's the pain of leaving our families we bear while on duty,'' Molla said with a choking voice.

Back at home, he has a wife and two minor sons—one is in Class 5 and the other is just three years old.

Asked about postal ballot facilities for voting as they are engaged in an essential service with the government, Molla said nobody has ever told them about it, although officials keep visiting them regularly.

The government machinery extensively uses these ferry services, as there is no other mode of communication at present. These large vessels even carry vehicles, goods, and thousands of people every day from both sides.

The irony is that the Election Department too used such vessels in transporting voting equipment and people to Majuli, but the very people who ferried them will not be able to vote.

Ahmed said they live on the ferry itself all the time, while the local staff go to their homes once a month.

''We have a small kitchen and a room to stay in. It has a capacity for four people. The local staff also stay here. When we cannot go to family functions and festivals, then we miss those moments a lot,'' he added.

Besides his wife, Ahmed has two daughters: the 19-year-old is studying nursing, and the 11-year-old is in Class 6.

''There are around 25 people from our company who are engaged as masters and drivers of these nine vessels, which can carry 100 people,'' he added.

The ferry service of these large twin-engine vessels began between Nimati and Kamalabari on Thursday after a gap of three months due to the drying up of Brahmaputra in winter. However, it was continuing between Nimati and Aphalamukh in Majuli.

The locals—Achyut Das, Rupak Bharali, and Pranab Taye—said they would go to their respective places to cast their votes on April 19, when the first phase of polling will take place in Jorhat constituency.

''The government has not arranged any postal ballots for us. So, we don't have any option but to go vote. We will go on rotation on that day,'' said Das, a resident of Jorhat.

After he returns, Taye and Bharali will go to Sivasagar and Dergaon, respectively, they said.

All three of them are Lascars on the ship, and their services are essential while anchoring the vessel after reaching its destination.

The government is presently constructing a bridge between Majuli and Jorhat. In November 2021, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had launched the construction work for the bridge over Brahmaputra.

For the construction of the 8.25 km Majuli-Jorhat bridge, including immediate approaches over Brahmaputra on NH-715K at Dakshinpat in Majuli, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had sanctioned Rs 925.47 crore.

The state government had constituted a cabinet committee to regularly monitor the progress of the project, which is likely to be commissioned by November 2025.

To connect Majuli with the mainland, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had in February 2016 laid the foundation of a bridge over the Brahmaputra connecting Jorhat on the south bank and Lakhimpur on the north bank via the river island.

For the same project, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2021 again laid the foundation stone for the eight-km-long Jorhat-Majuli bridge, to be constructed at Rs 925 crore, before the Assembly polls.

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