Thousands of Mumbaiites descend on the city’s six beaches every day, yet, officials admitted, there are just 35 lifeguards deployed to ensure their safety.
With the city’s shoreline of 170 km, it means that one lifeguard has to keep an eye on a stretch of 4.85 kilometres.
“It becomes impossible to supervise every corner of the beach when people turn up in large numbers. With only 35 lifeguards around, they find it extremely difficult to control thousands of people,” said SS Shinde, joint commissioner, disaster management.
He also said the security of beaches was the state government’s responsibility and providing lifeguards was additional work done by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Of the 35 lifeguards, the civic body has only 12 permanent lifeguards, while the rest have been appointed on a temporary contract basis.
“It is not possible to ensure beach safety with such an inadequate number of lifeguards at our disposal. When crowds swarm the beaches, it is very difficult to stop them from going into the sea,” said an official.
Civic officials are also blaming the lack of civic sense by citizens as one of the reasons for the increasing death toll because of drowning.
“Warning signs and boards have been put up at beaches, yet nobody pays heed to them. With a limited number of guards at our disposal, supervising every nook and corner of all the beaches is impossible,” said Mahesh Narvekar, chief officer, Disaster Management Cell, BMC.
Lifeguards deployed at the beach have been facing practical difficulties in handling the huge crowds.
Two weeks ago, in Dadar, fire officials alleged, a group of swimmers assaulted a lifeguard who was issuing warnings.
“Sometimes people come drunk and there is an urge to enjoy oneself without thinking of the consequences. How can anybody control them,” said a lifeguard, on the condition of anonymity.
“Mostly people treat our warnings lightly. It is not practically possible to keep a watch when people are indifferent to warnings and signs. It has become necessary now for a system to be put in place of levying some kind of penalty if warnings are ignored,” said SD Sawant, additional deputy fire officer (joint in charge of beach safety).