Though paltry, rains create death trap on Mumbai's Juhu beach

Within seven days, three youth drown in 15x50 feet freak sand depressions while soaking in a busy stretch of beach; expert says beaches tend to be susceptible to erosion during monsoon months

A busy stretch of Juhu beach frequented every day by throngs of eager tourists and passionate runners has turned into a death trap, taking three lives in the last one week.

Also read: Lifeguards, cops search for clues in mystery drowning at Juhu Beach

Nineteen incidents of drowning have occurred in the last week alone, leading to three deaths
Nineteen incidents of drowning have occurred in the last week alone, leading to three deaths

Rakesh Yadhav, 25, a resident of Chembur, was the first casualty to be reported last Sunday. His body was fished out nearly 24 hours later by members of the Juhu Beach Lifeguard Association (JUBLA).

Lifeguard Manohar Shetty says the victims’ bodies were recovered after several hours of struggle.Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Lifeguard Manohar Shetty says the victims’ bodies were recovered after several hours of struggle.Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Starting at Juhu police station and stretching all the way to Versova, the strip has developed a series of sand depressions, some of them 15 feet deep and a mammoth 50 feet wide, sucking in unsuspecting strollers tempted to soak in briny waters.

Lifeguard Manohar Shetty and his team man the dangerous stretch at Juhu Beach
Lifeguard Manohar Shetty and his team man the dangerous stretch at Juhu Beach

On June 29 and 30, two more deaths by drowning were reported a 20-year-old resident of Virar and a 23-year-old youth from DN Nagar. Manohar Shetty, a BMC lifeguard in charge of manning the stretch, said the lifeguard team battled 19 cases of drowning in the last week alone, but they were unsuccessful at saving the three youth.

"Their bodies were recovered after several hours of trying," he added. One of the fortunate few to be rescued, Rakesh Patel (name changed on request), a 15-year-old from Borivali, had a narrow escape on June 29. "It was 6 pm when he was enjoying himself in waist-deep water.

Within minutes, he disappeared into a deep water crevasse. It was only after he was rescued that we realized that a depression under water had caused the mishap," said Patel's brother-in-law, who had accompanied him that evening to the beach. Sand depressions are a naturally occurring phenomenon and are formed due to rampant erosion.

Shankar Gajbaje, marine biologist and officer-in-charge of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), said beaches tend to susceptible to erosion between the months of June and October, causing craters in the sea bed close to the coastline. This leads to the constant and unpredictable changing of sand patterns.

"Eventually, they become potential death traps, owing to the sudden change in depth which leads to the occurrence of whirlpools in their vicinity," he explained. In the months following October, the craters are filled in naturally by the shifting sands. "That's why the best way to appreciate the ocean in the rains is from ashore," Gajbaje advised.

Sometimes, the grounding of ships can also lead to the formation of depressions. In August 2011, after MT Pavit was towed away from Juhu beach, environmentalists had appealed to revelers to stay out of the water because the ship had left behind a deep depression leading to a change in tidal patterns, with angry currents replacing placid waters.

Juhu's perennial worry of a shortage of lifeguards only makes matters worse in a crisis such as this. Shetty said, that unlike last year when a permanent team of 10 lifeguards was supported by nearly 60 personnel from the fire brigade, the he Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and NDRF personnel, in a bid to monitor the beach round the clock, this time, the additional hands were only available during high tide and over the weekends when crowds surge to a few thousand.

The lifeguards' grouse over lack of competent gear and equipment earns a shade of irony with JUBLA president, Neville David alleging that six speed boats and seven jet skies that have been recently acquired by the BMC to carry out emergency search and rescue operations on Mumbai's busiest beaches, haven't been made available.

The equipment, he said, was acquired at a cost of close to Rs 5 crore. Prashant Rahangdale, chief fire officer, said they had received requisite permissions and the equipment is on its way to being dispatched to various fire brigade stations to keep handy for search and rescue operations during the monsoon.

In 2006, master litigant Bhawanji Rayani's Janhit Manch filed a PIL that led to a victory for citizen safety. The Bombay High Court had directed the BMC to appoint an adequate number of lifeguards at beaches across the city, while asking the state government to frame guidelines around water safety like those existent in Goa.

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