May 2: Three MBA students from Bharti Vidyapeeth, who were part of a group that had gone for an outing to Mulshi dam, drowned after they entered the water for a swim.
April 9: Two engineering students, who had gone to the Pavana dam reservoir for a picnic, drowned.
May last year: Ankit Chadha, who was known for weaving research-based narratives performed in the Dastangoi form of Urdu storytelling, drowned at the Kusgaon Lake on Kasarsai dam.
April last year: Three Class X students from a school in Chennai, who were participating in a camp, drowned at Mulshi dam. Police booked the organisers of the camp on charges of negligence.
These are just some of the many drowning deaths that have taken place in and around Pune during summer and monsoon in a little over a year. Along with summer and monsoon, many incidents like these are also reported during occasions like Ganesh idol immersion processions and Holi, when people enter the water during festivities.
Police, rescue agencies and government bodies in charge of these water bodies say that it’s also the tourists’ prerogative to exercise restraint and caution. They also highlight the need for creating awareness among people, especially youth.
Within days after the May 2 incident, the Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship Development, Bharati Vidyapeeth, where the students studied, started sending alert messages around weekends, listing dos and don’ts for going for excursions and outings.
Most of the drowning deaths are reported from two of Maharashtra’s most popular tourist destinations: Lonavala and Khandala.
What authorities say
Inspector Deepak Lukde, in-charge of Lonavala Rural police station, says, “Every year, before the summer and monsoon tourist seasons begin, planned efforts are undertaken at the level of police stations like ours that have lakes or reservoirs in their jurisdiction. A safety review is undertaken for the spots where such incidents have taken place in the past. Warning boards are put up, asking tourists to avoid entering the water for a swim. Regular patrolling is done during season. Whenever there is an opportunity, awareness is created among school and college students.”
“Having said that, it needs to be pointed out that it is practically impossible to monitor tourist activities at all places because of the sheer expanse of these lakes or reservoirs, and especially in areas that are far from the main roads. Accidents don’t just happen at the waterfront, but also at the waterfalls and hills with water streams. Patrolling these areas round-the-clock is impossible. We come across many cases where people disregard these warnings and enter the water anyway. They even fight with on-duty cops. Alcohol consumption and attempts of taking pictures at these spots are two very worrying trends. A lot more effort needs to be taken by all the stakeholders to raise awareness,” he added.
Exact data on cases of accidental drowning is scarce, especially because of different police jurisdictions and entities which control the reservoirs. There are at least 22 dams in Pune district, all of which have reservoirs that attract tourists during summers and monsoon. While most reservoirs are under the control of the state Irrigation Department, some areas are under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, while Mulshi dam is owned by Tata Power.
What can be done
“There is no point in denying that more warning boards can be put up at dam reservoirs. But most people pay no heed and enter the water anyway. These reservoirs are located in bowls of hilly terrains. There can be numerous places where the water depth increases suddenly. It is at these places that most accidents take place,” said a senior Irrigation Department official.
“Many resorts, while advertising their properties, say that they are located on the waterfront. But in most cases they do not make adequate arrangements for safety or surveillance in places where their patrons go for a picnic. To some extent, isn’t it also their responsibility,” asks the officer.
Sachchidanand Gawade, deputy commandant with the Talegaon-based Battalion of the National Disaster Response Force, says, “In the outreach programmes we conduct in schools, colleges and companies, we tell them about a thumb rule: ‘never enter the water you do not know about.’ Water bodies in the hilly terrains can have sudden deep patches, there can be dangerous rocks and swirls, making them dangerous for swimming, even for those who know how to swim. But at the same time, if people want to enter the water, we also teach our target audience about various precautionary measures, and the first one is not to panic. We teach basic methods of dry rescue, using ropes or sticks. We advice people to carry ropes when they go to water bodies for outings. Awareness, restraint and taking precautions, as well as not panicking at the time of emergencies can save lives.”