THE drowning of two students from Ahmedabad at Candolim beach recently was tragic. Six from among 47 students on study tour went for a swim at 3.30 am when there was no one to help. They disregarded the advisory not to enter the sea after sunset. It is common knowledge that the sea condition is turbulent during monsoon. Their swim in rough weather conditions resulted in the students getting pulled away by strong currents. The tragic deaths could have been prevented had the students and their faculty heeded the advisory. The two deaths were not isolated cases. Two more deaths were reported this month, one at Calangute and another at Candolim. Yet another student got drowned off Japanese Garden beach in Mormugao last month. All the victims were young people.
Following the deaths of young people, questions of safety of tourists coming to Goa have been raised once again. It is not that the government has not taken any steps to provide safety to tourists and locals. The state has appointed Drishti Lifesaving to man the beaches to advise, warn and provide safety and rescue for tourists going for a swim. The safety cover is provided from dawn to dusk. Marshals are posted on the beaches and they man the posts till midnight. The students from Ahmedabad went for a swim and got pulled away during the wee hours when there was no one to check or help them. There have frequently been cases over the years wherein people ignore the advice of lifeguards and police and tourism department officials, ignoring the boards and red flags put up on the beaches for warning. Despite government advisory to the people not to venture into sea after drinking, most people who are ‘high’ do it recklessly. They pick up fights on being told not to enter the sea. There is hardly anything the security and safety personnel could do against such individuals or groups except taking legal action which is refrained from as it could harm tourism.
Though deaths due to drowning in the sea have come down drastically, especially after the appointment of lifeguards, a lot needs to be done to bring it down. In 2007 the state recorded 200 deaths due to drowning which prompted the government to provide lifeguard services on the beaches. Since then deaths have trickled down to single digit each year; over the last decade only 54 people died due to drowning at tourist spots and over 3,000 people were saved by lifeguards. The government is thinking of prohibiting swimming in the night hours which is a very good thing. The government must work out an effective enforcement plan to block tourists from venturing into sea after sunset and in rough weather as it would be difficult to provide rescue services especially in hostile conditions. Tourists should also be prevented from going to swim at the rocky sites as they are dangerous with quite a few cases of deaths reported from such sites. It should get hotels and restaurants to put up warnings for their guests asking them not to swim at odd hours. The advisories should not be occasional but constant.
The government must enact the law soonest to take tough measures against indiscipline on the beaches like swimming after sunset or venturing into the sea in a drunken state. Can the government prevent people from venturing into water by enacting such a law alone? There are several laws that can be used to prevent people from venturing: what is necessary is that there should be will and the manpower to enforce the laws. The law has to be delicately balanced: Goa being a tourist place it could lose its charm if there is ‘over policing’. Tourists come to the state to enjoy and too many restrictions could be counterproductive. It will be in the interest of the state and the tourists that security personnel play a more active role in advising the tourists about the dangers rather than booking cases by invoking the law. Even if the law is enacted to prevent tourists from venturing into sea after sunset or in a drunken state can it be easily enforced? It will be an exercise in futility in case the government comes out with stringent provisions to ‘discipline’ the tourists through legal process. Goa can ill afford too many restrictions in times when it is facing stiff competition from other destinations. The best way to deal with the problem would be using government and hospitality industry resources to set up a system of warnings and checks to persuade tourists not to risk their life.