Four years ago, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) gave its administrative nod to a plan to make our beaches safer. This included building watchtowers for more efficient rescue operations, more lifeguards, equipping our beaches with safety paraphernalia and private agencies to ensure beach safety. Costing around Rs 6 crore back in 2008, the BMC had ambitiously titled this plan its own ‘Baywatch-model’, basing it on the popular American television series about lifeguards at work.
Four years later, nothing has changed. The result? Fifty lives lost to drowning off the city’s beaches. Civic officials and fire fighters blame this on the apathy of senior officials who have dilly-dallied over implementation of the scheme.
While putting the plan on the backburner, there is little else the civic body has done to make our beaches safer. According to civic figures, there are only 12 permanent lifeguards with the civic body and 23 others on a temporary basis. This means that at any given point, there are only 17 lifeguards patrolling the city’s beaches. Insiders said this figure could be much lower, depending on the requirement of lifeguards elsewhere.
A senior fire brigade official said, “How do you expect a motley group of lifeguards to control thousands of people who throng the city’s beaches every day? We are outnumbered and are in no position to make people heed our warnings.”
So, why hasn’t the richest civic body hired more lifeguards to protect its citizens? Officials said they don’t receive much response when they look to hire. As a result, six months ago, when the six-monthly terms of the temporary lifeguards expired, the BMC was forced to give them an extension.
Along with inadequate manpower, the lack of resources is another problem. While thousands throng the city’s beaches every day, the fire brigade has only rudimentary equipment such as ropes and life jackets to save them. There is neither a watchtower to ensure people drowning can be spotted quickly nor are there any speedboats.
Fire brigade chief Suhas Joshi, however, promised things would change soon. The fire brigade, he said, was looking at dusting off the Baywatch plan soon. “We have made provisions in the budget to install watchtowers, and buy rescue boats. We will process the paperwork for these and hopefully, will acquire them.”