Denied proper equipment or pay raise, lifeguards on Kerala beaches remain unsung heroes

While the government is responsible for providing uniforms, ropes and other essential items, no new supplies have been released in the past two years, they complain.
The partially broken lifeguard tower on Kollam beach
The partially broken lifeguard tower on Kollam beach

KOLLAM : Deployed on beaches and coastal regions to protect visitors and tourists, lifeguards often remain unsung heroes. Their quick response in emergencies, disregarding their own safety, has saved hundreds of lives. Sadly, though, they are frequently left to work without essential protective gear and equipment.

A lack of infrastructure on beaches -- like storage rooms, living quarters, warning signs, first-aid supplies, lighting, and walkie-talkies — has made their jobs even more challenging. Lifeguards say that many beaches lack proper lifeguard centres and towers to store protective gear and other equipment. While the government is responsible for providing uniforms, ropes and other essential items, no new supplies have been released in the past two years, they complain.

Lifeguards have also expressed concern over the government’s plans to convert many coastal regions into tourist destinations without having recruited new lifeguards for the past 10 years. This has led to a shortage of lifeguards on many beaches.

A total of 114 lifeguards under the tourism department have been deployed across the state. Thiruvananthapuram district has the highest number, with 64, while Kasaragod has the fewest, with four. Additionally, under the respective District Tourism Promotion Councils (DTPC), 10 lifeguards have been deployed. Kannur has the highest number of such lifeguards -- six. Kozhikode has two while Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram have one each. At the same time, DTPC has no lifeguards in Kollam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Kasaragod districts.

“In the past two years, we have not received any new uniforms, ropes, or other equipment from the government,” says Dolphin Ratheesh, a Guinness record holder, lifeguard and swimming instructor in Kollam.

“The monsoon season is about to arrive, but we still haven’t received new ropes to create safety boundaries in the sea. Beaches are also short-staffed. For example, Azheekal beach has been sanctioned four lifeguards, but only one is posted there. New lifeguards have not been recruited for the past 10 years though existing lifeguards retire regularly at 65.”

No Increment in eight years

Lifeguard salaries have not increased in the last eight years. Currently, a lifeguard earns Rs 815 per day. In February, the state government announced that it would implement a personal accident insurance scheme for lifeguards, providing Rs 10 lakh in case of an accident while on duty.

However, four months on, the scheme is yet to be implemented. Furthermore, lifeguards lack provident fund or medical facilities like ESI. Delays in salary payments have exacerbated their struggles. “We haven’t had a salary increase in eight years, and salary delays are a persistent issue,” says Suresh Babu, another lifeguard.

“We work from 7am to 7pm, but we usually receive our salaries mid-month. We risk our lives to ensure the safety of others, yet we lack proper uniforms, safety gear, and infrastructure, and we are working for a minimum wage.”

Another lifeguard, who does not want to be named, says: “From the first week of each month, we would start asking the tourism department officials to disburse our salary. Only after many such phone calls do they release our salaries. Daily, we save lives, but neither the officials nor the people would appreciate it.’’

Number of lifeguards under the tourism department

  • Thiruvananthapuram 64

  • Kollam 9

  • Alappuzha 10

  • Ernakulam 21

  • Kozhikode 3

  • Thrissur 8

  • Kannur 11

  • Malappuram 5

  • Kasaragod 4

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