Midnapore, July 26: The sea in Digha is swelling and has already claimed more tourists this year than it had in many before.
Waves that used to touch 10 feet during the rainy season earlier now cross the 15-ft mark regularly and scientists are trying to figure out why.
The giant waves, particularly during high tide, have prompted police to prevent tourists from strolling along the beach, leave alone taking a plunge into the sea.
'Though inquisitive tourists are flocking to Digha in large numbers to witness the rising sea, we cannot allow them to go near the beach. The sea is violent these days,' said Dilip Bhadra, the officer-in-charge of Digha police station.
Anandadeb Mukhopadhyay, a professor of the School of Oceanography in Jadavpur University and chairman of the Digha-Shankarpur Development Authority, said: 'The waves are continuously rising above 15 ft. Sometimes, they even touch 20.'
Five tourists have drowned in Digha since May 12. The last victim was Hiralal Banerjee from Bidhan Sarani in north Calcutta, who was washed away while sitting on the beach.
Seaside tourists across the Indian Ocean region had a devastating brush with the killer in the placid waters in the December 26 tsunami that claimed around 300,000 lives.
It cannot be immediately said whether the swelling in Digha is any way linked to the tsunami that was triggered by a massive earthquake off an Indonesian island, Mukhopadhyay said. 'We have begun a study on the sudden changes in wave pattern of the sea.'
A police team has been campaigning over microphone every morning to warn tourists against moving along the beach. 'We have to take measures to avert more deaths. Tourists have a tendency to take a stroll along the beach or sit on the boulders without realising the imminent danger,' said the officer-in-charge.
But the restrictions have not gone down well with the holidaymakers.
'Have we come here just to be in the hotel' asked Saurav Banerjee, a railway employee, who came with wife Sarmistha from Kharagpur.
Kaustav Ganguly, a trader from Bishnupur, who reached here yesterday morning along with three friends, decided to pack off this morning to protest against police harassment. 'They are unnecessarily imposing a ban on movement along the beach. We had come all the way from faraway Bishnupur to witness the rising waves. But we are leaving the place as we are not being allowed to venture into the beach,' Ganguly said.
Officials said over 20,000 tourists have checked into around 450 hotels in the town this time, braving bad weather.
'Tourists normally avoid Digha during rain. But this time, there is a record crowd in our hotels. But they are disheartened for being forced to keep away from the sea,' said Girish Rauth, president of the hoteliers' association.
He said the association has, however, deployed a large number of swimmers and divers to help tourists swim to the shore in the event of drowning. 'But they have to sit idle as police are not permitting tourists to go near the sea,' he alleged.