In the past, peak tourist seasons in Goa were often marred by incidents of people drowning close to the beaches. These deaths happened primarily because tourists were unclear about the dangers and often went further into the sea than what was advisable. The fact that some of the tourists were too drunk to be careful did not help matters. However, thanks to an experiment — undertaken by the Goa government — during October and November, there is now a blueprint available on how to make Goa’s beaches safer.
Essentially, the experiment, which was conducted on a pilot basis, involved the use of wardens as well as the use of Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) along the beaches to ensure that the movement of all tourists is well monitored and urgent rescues can be provided when needed.
“The end result was to ensure we increase focus on the lives and make sure drunkards and tourists who are not aware of swimming or rules of the sea do not venture in. This also helped in bringing some sense of order in an otherwise chaotic beach situation due to heavy footfall,” said Manohar Azgaonkar, Deputy Chief Minister and the state’s Tourism Minister. He says the government has received positive reports about the IRB personnel and beach wardens keeping a good watch.
Why lifeguards are not enough
Adverse weather and two cyclones during the peak tourist season earlier in the year resulted in several people drowning in the sea. This provided a trigger for a rethink on relying just on lifeguards. Over the years, the government has been questioned over the safety of Goa's beaches. Beach wardens and IRB personnel now provide a crucial second layer of safety and it has resulted in more rescues.
Buoyed by the result, the government has now asked Drishti Marine, the private beach management agency which provided the wardens, to put together findings in a report for the government to mull over. The government is looking to expand this project to several other locations along the coastal state’s western front regularly every year between October and February.
While beaches in Goa are otherwise manned by trained lifeguards who are equipped to pull a victim from drowning, these beach wardens are no lifeguards and do not cross the High Tide Line. But they are trained to keep watch on errant or drunk tourists on the beach, and specifically watch out for those who could breach instructions and tread into the sea in an inebriated state.
Over the last few months, Goa has had a difficult time at its beaches especially because of two cyclones and other adverse weather conditions occurring at a time when the domestic tourist crowd increases over the weekends. Matters took a delicate turn with the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant himself warning tourists to behave while in Goa. On November 9, a Saturday and a high footfall day in the tourism calendar, lifeguards saw themselves busy with 16 major rescues across beachfront in Goa; these included two deaths in Ashwem (see box). Six drunk men, all from Karnataka, were pulled in by rip currents. Only four made it back alive; police reports confirm the six were warned twice, and still ventured intoxicated.
“It’s then we felt the situation is better addressed if we engage a second layer of intervention and not just rely on lifeguards in the sea. Increasingly we have been pushing our resources, including our rescue apparatus in the water. This is traditionally done to reduce the time of response,” says Ravi Shankar, CEO, Drishti Marine, the agency designated by the government to manage the beaches.
With the police not having the mandate for beach safety, Drishti deployed wardens to go around and man the beaches.
According to statistics shared with the government, compared to the average of the last five year’s data, this tourist season alone has seen a 70 per cent increase in the number of rescues across beachfront. The “spurt” is being seen as a “by-product of adverse weather and public indifference to their own safety”.
“The wardens and the guards worked together and zones were identified which have better swimming surfaces and suffer fewer rip currents,” said Shankar explaining how the whole effort was to get people to swim within the safe zones.
Azgaonkar says that there is a larger message that he wants to share. “Tourists need to also educate themselves that walking drunk into the sea is an obvious danger situation. We want them to come in good numbers and come often to Goa. It is known for its beauty but also its culture. The wardens and IRB will monitor the beaches but the larger responsibility lies with the tourist to follow rules”.
According to Azgaonkar, the IRB and wardens have now been asked to send tourists and locals found flouting rules to the police station closest to the beachfront. “Tourism management is an evolving subject and one can only keep improvising according to changing demographics and footfalls,” he said.
According to the Inspector General of Police Jaspal Singh, while beach safety cannot be a police responsibility as it doesn’t fall in the mandate, the efforts of the wardens and the IRB personnel have shown good results. “One (IRB personnel) even rescued a tourist who was drowning as at that moment he was the closest to the situation. This gives us hope that solutions can work”.