The swelling waves of the sea are not the only threat to the many lifeguards who protect us from drowning. Everyday these guards have to keep up the vigil despite the abysmal facilities provided to them. Manohar Shetty,43,has been a lifeguard for 10 years. Job satisfaction,however,remains elusive. There is no respect we get or even better facilities to go about in our profession, says Shetty. Its a sentiment shared by many others.
The weekdays see several hundred people throng beaches like Aksa and Juhu. The numbers swell to several thousand on weekends but the number of lifeguards remains a paltry one or two per beach at any time. It gets difficult to keep vigil,says Shetty,and understandably so. Manning the Juhu Beach,a 4 km stretch,would be a daunting task for any lifeguard in the world. International standards prescribe one lifeguard for every kilometre of beach.
According to BMC data,there are four permanent lifeguards at Juhu Beach,three at Versova,one at Aksa Beach and one at Madh. In addition there are 23 temporary lifeguards,mainly swimming trainers from different BMC pools,at various beaches. The Girgaum Chowpatty and Marve Beach have no lifeguards,said a BMC official.
“We can’t ignore our jobs after all it’s about saving lives at the end of the day,” says 53- year-old R S Mashelkar,senior lifeguard at Aksa Beach. “What to do if we do not have the required equipment or even manpower needed to work as lifeguards. We can’t turn our backs on saving lives.”
Vishal Sagare,34,a swimming instructor who also works as a lifeguard,says they only have rings,basic life jackets and tubes to help a person stay afloat. “But you should see the kind of equipment and facilities which are used internationally,” he rues. Sagare is temporarily posted at the Aksa Beach. Also,there are no vehicles to carry the rescued to medical help. Most beaches do not have first aid boxes either. In the absence of a stretcher,lifeguards carry people on their shoulders. To top this there is no training or skill development on the job for these lifeguards.
Only last month,the BMC had ordered that lifeguards be shifted from the public health department to the fire brigade. But that alone may not help save lives off Mumbai’s beaches.
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