Despite 51 deaths, BMC sat on sea safety budget

Rs 2 crore was set aside in 2011-12 for equipment to ensure safety at beaches following slew of drowning incidents since December 2007, but nothing was done; same promises made this year

Give that dip in the city's seas this summer a second thought. Not just in the interest of your complexion, but also your life. The civic body has done next to nothing to safeguard the seas yet, despite pledging word and money while passing budget 2011 to improve sea safety following a spate of deaths at sea. As per the BMC statistics that MiD DAY obtained, in the last five years from December 2007 to November 2011, 51 people lost their lives by drowning in the sea, and another 30 were injured.

Fatal to swim in: As per figures, six deaths occurred in the seas off
Juhu and Dadar Chowpatty each, the most for any beach in the city,
since December 2007

Most drowning deaths took place at Juhu and Dadar Chowpatty -- six died at each location since December 2007. Chief Fire Officer HN Muzawar said, "In 2011-12, despite budget allocation [of Rs 2 crore], no equipment was purchased, and the amount has been carried forward to the coming fiscal. After some months, the plan would be in place. We currently have 23 lifeguards and are not recruiting more."

Sea-rious lapse 
For the coming fiscal, municipal commissioner has set aside Rs 2.1 crore (mostly from unused money allocated last year) to purchase safety equipment like rescue boats and jet skis with trolleys, and build lifeguard-watch towers; the same guarantee was given at the start of the current fiscal.

But things remain as they were, and the beaches as unchecked. "No equipment was bought last year; no new lifeguards appointed by the BMC. Various NGOs and lifeguard associations scan the seas on their own," said an official of the Mumbai Fire Brigade. He added that the situation gets unbearable during summers and monsoons, when many people venture into the sea and the waves are strong.

BMC's standing committee chairman Rahul Shewale tried to divvy up the accountability. "The beaches also come under the see of state government and collector and they aren't doing anything to protect them. It is only the BMC that is trying to safeguard the city's beaches. We would see to it that all the equipment is bought in the coming fiscal."

The corporation also claimed that despite issuing warnings, people venture into the sea. "Even citizens should take some precautions. Some of the beaches are quite dangerous in the city," said another BMC official.

170 km
Length of Mumbai's coastline

Far from safety
In an affidavit filed by former chief fire officer Uday Tatkare (now deceased), he enlisted 12 city beaches, including Juhu beach and Girgaum Chowpatty, which are classified as safe; the others -- Walkeshwar, Worli, Dadar Chowpatty, Mahim, Bandra to Khar, Aksa, Manori, Gorai and Marve are unsafe. Two beaches -- at Tata Garden and Raj Bhavan -- are not open to tourists.  Following a PIL, the government in 2006 had framed a plan that included trained lifeguards to be deployed, equipped with rescue mechanisms like life jackets, binoculars, rescue tubes, pocket masks and oxygen resuscitators. The state also proposed to set up safety nets, watchtowers, floodlights and proper signages at popular beaches. Little has been done to fulfil any of this. 

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