After three youngsters drowned off Aksa beach on Sunday, the civic body said it would initiate an inquiry to ascertain why two of the three lifeguards deployed at the beach were not there at the time of the incident.
The one lifeguard at the beach managed to save one of the four youngsters who had strayed too far into the sea.
Aksa beach has seven designated lifeguards, who work in two shifts. This means that a given point, at least three lifeguards are expected to be manning the beach.
“Our concern on Sunday was to conduct rescue operations. Now, we will initiate an internal inquiry into the absence of other lifeguards. If the absence was without prior information, we will decide on what action to take,” said a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) official, on condition of anonymity.
As per the contract under which the BMC appoints lifeguards, if they are absent for more than three days without notice, they can be dismissed. However, no such action has been taken so far, despite repeated instances in the past of lifeguards being absent.
In July 2012, when three youngsters drowned off Juhu beach, there was not a single lifeguard. Four lifeguards are expected to man Juhu beach.
While at least two lifeguards are expected to be present at every beach, with the added deployment of flood rescue teams of the Mumbai fire brigade on weekends and public holidays, on most occasions, this two-tier presence is not in place.
The BMC has also delayed in taking concrete steps to improve beach safety. Its plan to increase the number of lifeguards from 35 to 84 is yet to be implemented, though recruitment has begun.
“There are practical difficulties that lifeguards face because of unruly visitors. If the public does not pay heed to our warnings, the situation will not change even if there are more lifeguards,” said PS Rahangdale, deputy chief fire officer, in charge of beach safety.
The BMC has asked the police to deploy personnel during the monsoon. “The police have responded positively,” said Manisha Mhaiskar, additional municipal commissioner.