Are Vizag beaches safe? Lack of lifeguards puts beach visitors at risk

There is an urgent need to improve the safety of tourists by reappointing the lifeguards and others, said stakeholders of the tourism sector

By Newsmeter Network  Published on  31 July 2022 8:32 AM GMT
Are Vizag beaches safe? Lack of lifeguards puts beach visitors at risk

Visakhapatnam: All major beaches in Vizag city have no lifeguards or community guards. In the absence of lifeguards, visitors to the beach seem to be in danger as there is no one to save them from drowning. The recent incident at Seetapalem beach in Anakapalle district where six students drowned to death has once again exposed the lack of safety for visitors in the beaches of Vizag and surrounding districts.

The Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) has not renewed the contract of the community guards saying that since they were recruited by the city police, they should pay the salaries of the community guards.

Vizag has only 38 lifeguards

Vizag beaches saw a series of drowning deaths between 2010 and 2012. In 2012, the GVMC and the Vizag city police recruited as many as 40 community guards (experts in swimming from the fishermen community) on a contract basis to assist the city police in rescue activities. Till the first week of April 2022, Vizag city had 38 lifeguards – 18 lifeguards were posted at Ramakrishna beach, 10 at Rushikonda beach, six at Yarada beach, and four at Jodugullapalem. Each lifeguard is paid Rs. 18,000 and after statutory deductions, they get around Rs. 15,000 per month.

Who'll pay the community guards?

The GVMC council passed a resolution to stop payments to community guards saying they are not part of the GVMC. The municipal corporation paid the pending salaries of the community guards till March 2022 but has not renewed their contracts. The GVMC council is of the opinion that it is the responsibility of the police department to pay the salaries of the community guards.

Community guards caught in between

P. Pola Rao, a community guard, said, "We have lost our livelihood as the GVMC washed their hands of us while the police department is unable to recruit us. Though we had saved several lives in the past decade, our services were simply ignored citing various reasons."

Another lifeguard, Yella Rao, added, "Despite the odds, we have rescued over 130 persons from drowning in the beaches of Vizag city in the past three years (April 2019 to March 2022). We have saved beach visitors by risking our lives as we don't have life-saving equipment such as lifejackets, lifebuoys, ropes, public announcement system, and speed boats." He said they approached some YSRC leaders who assured to take steps to reappoint them. "We are hoping that the local bodies will come forward to renew our contracts in the coming days," Yella Rao added.

Drowning remains an unrecognised threat

The drowning deaths have dented the image of Vizag city as tourists feel Vizag beaches are not safe. The community guards had played a great role in preventing drownings. There is an urgent need to improve the safety of tourists by reappointing the lifeguards and others, said stakeholders of the tourism sector. A senior police officer said they have no budget to pay the salaries of the community guards. "We are chalking out plans such as support from various sectors to fund the lifeguards. If all goes as per plans, lifeguards will be back in the beaches in one or two months," he added.

The rip current, a strong and narrow current of water moving away from the shore, has been causing drowning deaths in Vizag city. It is very difficult to prevent drowning deaths in the absence of lifeguards, the police officer added. Despite many lives being lost each year in the state, drowning remains a largely unrecognised threat. Sometimes, retrieving the bodies from the waters is a very difficult task and search operations have to be conducted for days to locate the bodies, said another senior police officer.

Balaram Naidu, the founder of Livein Adventures and AP state president of Royal Life Saving Society India, said the lack of safety infrastructure on the beaches and riverbanks lead to drowning incidents every year. Most of those who drown are youngsters without adequate swimming skills or non-swimmers. There is an urgent need to implement the best practices such as training children in swimming and creating awareness to mitigate drowning deaths, he added.

Death in numbers

· Over 525 drowning deaths were reported in Vizag city between 2006 and 2018.

· Over 65 people drowned in the city beaches from 2019 to 2022.

· The rip currents are strong and sudden and can't be noticed by a layman, said NIO officials.

· NCRB data says 1,799 people died by drowning in AP in 2020.

· The NCRB report revealed that 1,554 people died by drowning in Andhra Pradesh in 2019. While 44% of the deaths due to drowning were accidents, the rest were suicides and a few others.

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