Time for 'baywatch' along Chennai beaches? - The New Indian Express

Time for 'baywatch' along Chennai beaches?

Published: 25th November 2013 07:15 AM

Last Updated: 25th November 2013 07:15 AM

A number of college students have drowned at various beaches in and around Chennai in recent months, where they had gone to have fun with their friends. Not all of them were drunk. There have also been other instances of others who have been washed away. Caution is the keyword when playing with nature, but the string of such mishaps begs one question. Is it time we have a dedicated force of lifeguards on our beaches?

The police force routinely engages members of the fishing community to take up lifeguard duties during holidays and religious festivals, when large crowds are likely to hit the beaches. But this is a special case, and most of the time it is left to the Fire and rescue Services Department to rescue those who have been swept away. This too is usually unhelpful, as the Fire Station is not always nearby.

Previous attempts to set up a volunteer lifeguard force using members of the fishing community have slowly faded over the years. But it is critical that such a force is there, according to C Ashwin, who had been helped by these very lifeguards to pull two of his friends out of the water when things went wrong during an outing in 2001.

“We had all learnt swimming in school. But the sea is something else,” says Ashwin, who was a district level swimming champion. “Two of my friends got washed away when we were taking a dip at the Eliot’s Beach in Besant Nagar, and I was struggling to drag the both of them back to the shore. If the volunteer lifeguards had not come for us from the Olcott Kuppam, all three of our stories would have ended that evening,” he says, remembering the incident which happened on Friendship day in 2001.

Ashwin charges that the very fact that we do not yet have a dedicated force of lifeguards, a least on busy beaches, is demonstrative of the fact that Indians do not attach enough importance to human life. “All stops need to be pulled. Boards need to be put up explaining the dangers of taking liberties or having a massive ego when you step into the sea,” he says. He however adds that complete prevention is not possible but a certain prevention is necessary.

“Humans are going to keep doing stupid things and loss of life will continue. But if we can take some step to curtail the loss of life, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?” he asks.

The problem is however not as simply addressed as that, according to former Tamil Nadu DGP R Natraj, who has also serves as Chennai Commissioner. “With such a long coastline, it is not logistically possible to patrol and guard every inch of it. Whether there is someone to save you or not, personal caution is of utmost importance,” he says.

Nataraj adds that lifeguards and beach patrols as seen in the US or Australia are not practicable in India, as we do not have a system of regulating the beaches were individuals can take a dip. “Regulation is necessary. If we designate some beaches as safe, then we can post lifeguards there. But a full-time, dedicated life guard force is neither required nor affordable,” he says.

He, however, pointed that the police force has over the years stepped up patrolling of the water front, through its horse-mounted brigades and the beach buggy fleet. Also, rescue operations are left to the Fire & Rescue Services Department. Given the certain need for lifeguards on our beaches, and the apparent unsuitability of conventional methods of achieving this, it might just be time for the administration to examine how such things are done in other beaches across the country and the world, and arrive at a system suited to Chennai’s needs.

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