Lack of Safety in Chennai Beaches
Chennai, 25th July — The highly crowded and risky Marina Beach, the longest natural urban beach in India, has a notorious reputation. “Within the first week of July, five persons in their early 20s have drowned in the Bay of Bengal. All over Tamil Nadu, around 55 ordinary people (including tourists) and 27 fishermen have died so far this year due to drowning”, said A. Irudhayam, the Inspector of Coastal Security Guard group.
He added, “There are no lifeguards at any of the beaches, but the Tamil Nadu Special Police has picked 30 of their policemen to train them for rescue purpose. This initiative was taken in the year 2015. But this team has been appointed mainly for the purpose of preventing smuggling through the sea and incoming of militants, along with rescuing fishermen.” Rescuing of drowning citizen is a part of their job, but it is secondary one, the inspector mentioned.
Claudia Gonella, a British citizen who has been living in Chennai for a year, said about Elliots Beach, located on the south of Marina Beach, “There is constant police patrol whenever the beach is crowded. Though, I have not seen any lifeguards on the beach, it would be better to have them there.”
On being asked about why the government has not taken a proper step to reduce drowning at the beaches, Irudhayam said: “I don’t want to talk about the problems of the government. But there are so many social organizations. Why can’t they help the fishermen in rescuing people, or have awareness programs?” He adds that many other departments (such as the Tourism Department, the Municipal Corporation, the Forest Department) are concerned with regards to the issue, and due to a lack of communication amongst themselves, work gets stalled.
A. Sivakumar, G. Ashok, and Dinesh Babu (name changed), members of the political parties Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK), said that they were regular visitors at the Marina or Elliot’s whenever they were depressed. “Just like us, many come here depressed and sometimes inebriated too. That is why there are many suicide cases too”, said Sivakumar. Whereas Ashok and Sivakumar said that the government should increase the safety measures at beaches with buoys and barricades, Dinesh (an AIDMK member) deemed that it was impractical for the government to employ some people as 24×7 lifeguards for rare occasions of drowning.
Considering the statistics of drowning cases, the Inspector pointed out, “More males drown than females because they tend to show off while in the sea and lose control being caught in undercurrent and die.” If someone is caught in the rip current, he would be immediately pulled into the sea. “Once a body of a man was found near the lighthouse – he had drowned 359 km away from that place. We also find deformed bodies, eaten by fish. Sometimes, the bodies get stuck in the rocky bed under the sea and are never found.” said Irudhayam.
“The police keep patrolling across the shore on their horses and their All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), but just after they are gone, people go into the water again”, he concluded. While there are signboards in and around the beaches, warning people not to swim in the sea, the police cannot do much, as there is technically no penalty for swimming in the prohibited areas.
To compensate for the lack of lifeguards, watchtowers, or jet skis, the Coastal Security guards arrange a vigilance committee meeting every month with fishermen at the Marina Beach, as well as show rescue demonstrations to create awareness. Vijaya Kumar, a fisherman at Elliot’s Beach, said that five persons were chosen a few years ago from Orur Olcot Kuppam and Ashtalakhshmi Kovil Kuppam areas to serve as lifeguards. But it was soon discontinued because the government neither sustained the project, nor cared to pay the fishermen. “We fishermen save lives on a humanitarian basis. We warn them on particular months when the tides are rough,” he said.
On the other hand, the inspector said, “Sometimes, fishermen come to volunteer as lifeguards, but they leave soon after getting some better job. Once the government was ready to recruit and pay them on a regular basis, but they ended up asking for too much money.” The Corporation has denied any responsibility regarding the unnatural deaths caused by drowning and said that the matter is under the jurisdiction of the City police.