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Sand, surf and danger

The monsoon has only just begun, but eight people have already drowned at Mumbai’s beaches. The shortage of trained lifeguards and life-saving equipment has turned the city’s most popular hangouts into safety hazards. Megha Sood & Little Yadav report.

mumbai Updated: Jun 28, 2010 01:47 IST
Megha Sood & Little Yadav
Megha Sood & Little Yadav
Hindustan Times

If you are planning a visit to the beach this monsoon, proceed cautiously. There is a shortage of safety equipment and lifeguards on beaches across the city. Not surprisingly, there have been eight drownings since the monsoon began.

Hindustan Times visited the beaches considered the most dangerous — Juhu, Versova, Aksa and Gorai — and found that they are just not prepared to handle an emergency.

This was in evidence on June 14 when two teenagers drowned at Juhu, where a single lifeguard, apart from a few volunteers, was posted on a 4.5-km stretch on the day the season’s highest tide was forecast. Witnesses said the boys could have been saved if there were lifeguards with proper equipment to take timely action.

Fire officials at all four beaches complained that after the Juhu drowning, while the Fire Department hired and deployed more lifeguards on the beaches, they were not given adequate equipment.

Chief Fire Control Officer Uday Tatkare, however, claimed there were enough lifeguards and equipment to deal with any situation. “We have diverted lifeguards and swimmers, along with equipment from other parts of the city, to the beaches,” said Tatkare.

Lifeguards said this year’s scorching summer drew many to the beaches, which in turn raised the number of drowning deaths. “Most people are ignorant of safety measures at sea and the dangerous spots on the beach,” a lifeguard said on condition of anonymity. “People from the financially weaker sections cannot afford to go to a swimming pool. The beaches are the only option they have.”

Akash Shekhar, a student of Mithibai College who often visits the beach with friends after class, said: “I thought Juhu Beach was the safest, but now I am scared to go swimming there.”

Juhu | 3 lifeguards only

Equipment, personnel in short supply

The city’s most popular beach, it is 4.5 km long and is manned by three lifeguards at any given time. However, they face an equipment shortage.

A fire officer deployed at the beach as a lifeguard said they have five life jackets, three rubber floating rings (lifebuoys) and three rescue tubes. This is clearly not enough as thousands throng the beach on holidays and weekends.

“After a recent drowning, six lifeguards, three trainee swimmers and 120 rescue team members from nearby fire stations [are on standby],” said Uday Tatkare, chief fire officer.

However, fire officers at the beach said, there was a shortage of life jackets and lifebuoys.

“There are three lifeguards and only five life jackets. If there is more than one person in distress, it would be difficult to save them,” said a fire officer.

Versova | No lifeguard in sight

‘Never seen life-saving gear here’

An extension of Juhu, Versova Beach is home to Mumbai’s largest fishing community. About 2.5 km long, the beach starts from the Iskcon temple at Juhu.

Visitors and fire officers said the sea there can be dangerous, forming treacherous whirlpools that can suck in entire fishing boats. During high tide, the entire beach is submerged and is risky for swimmers.

Last year, on August 10, two teenagers drowned as they tried to immerse some rice, dried flowers and holy water used in a religious ceremony.

When Hindustan Times visited the beach, there wasn’t a lifeguard in sight.

“I take a walk on the beach every morning. I have never seen any lifeguards here,” said Sunil Sharma (50), a Yari Road resident. “I have never seen any lifesaving equipment either.”

Tatkare, however, claimed there are three officers deployed at the beach at any given time. Three life jackets and three lifebuoys have provided to them, he added.

Aksa | 6 men on duty, 2 shifts

‘On holidays, the crowds on the beach become unmanageable’

With just 10 life jackets, 10 lifebuoys and two rescue tubes, lifeguards at Aksa feel ill equipped to prevent a tragedy. With four fire brigade lifeguards, a fire officer and a civic lifeguard divided between two shifts, there may not be enough staff either.

The 3.5-km beach is a great attraction in the city’s north. However, several drowning cases are reported there every monsoon. Due to this, Aksa is closed for visitors after 8.30 pm.

“However, given the huge number of visitors, especially on Sundays and other holidays, it becomes difficult to manage the crowd with so few lifeguards. Besides, there is also an equipment shortage,” said a lifeguard requesting anonymity.

Unlike other beaches, the danger spots at Aksa keep shifting depending on the currents. The lifeguards have to be on their toes all the time. “Since we don’t have much life-saving equipment, we patrol continuously and prevent people from going too far out,” said a lifeguard.

Gorai | 12 men on duty

Fine on weekdays, tough on weekends

About 5 km long, Gorai is not as populated as Juhu and Aksa, except Sundays and other holidays when the number of visitors rises manifold.

With nine life jackets, six lifebuoys and two rescue tubes, the lifeguards manage fine on weekdays. On weekends, however, it’s a struggle. “On weekends, there is a drastic rise in the number of visitors. Even though the lifeguards are keeping a constant eye on the revellers, it becomes very difficult for us to manage the crowd,” said a fire brigade lifeguard.

Though Gorai is considered safe by and large, given the length of the beach, two fire officers and 10 lifeguards are not enough.

“Most weekend visitors don’t take our warnings seriously. If there is an emergency, only a few of us can go into the sea because of the equipment shortage,” said fire brigade lifeguard.

First Published: Jun 28, 2010 01:25 IST