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Boats meant to save lives gather dust

Tamluk, June 22: Five lifeboats have been left high and dry for over a year at Digha police station as there is no clear instruction from the government on who will provide funds for fuel and personnel.

The initiative may have saved lives on two occasions earlier this month when tourists from Calcutta and Hooghly were swept away while bathing at the sea resort.

East Midnapore’s additional district magistrate in charge of Digha, Prasanta Adhikari, said: “The death of two tourists at the beginning of monsoon is worrisome. Five inflatable motorised rubber lifeboats had been procured for the safety of tourists. But they have been lying unused at Digha police station as there is neither any fuel nor nuliyas (lifeguards) to run them. We will hold a meeting soon so that the boats can be used.”

The state tourism department had given the boats to the Digha-Shankarpur Development Authority (DSDA) over a year ago.

Six lifeguards deployed by the DSDA man the two beaches in Old and New Digha.

The officer in charge of Digha police station, Sudip Bandopadhyay, said it was “not possible” for the six lifeguards to keep vigil on the entire beach stretch, especially during the peak season. “Also, if a tourist ventures deep into the sea, it is not possible for a lifeguard to keep watch from the coast,” he added.

The OC said the boats were procured after the police informed the DSDA and the East Midnapore administration about the problem.

Police sources said 25 to 30 tourists drowned in Digha on an average every year. Most of them are from Calcutta, the sources added.

Every year after such tragedies, the DSDA, the district administration and the police hold meetings and agree to deploy more lifeguards. At the last meeting last year, it was decided that 20 more lifeguards would be appointed. Twenty people were selected and given basic training. The administration had decided that some of the new recruits would run the lifeboats.

But no decision has yet been taken on who will pay the 20 lifeguards. “The six lifeguards work on a contractual basis and get Rs 4,000 a month from the DSDA,” said Sujan Dutta, the executive officer of the authority. “But it’s not possible for us to pay 20 more lifeguards,” he added.

The district administration had suggested that since the boats had been kept in the custody of the police, Digha police station should bear the fuel expenses. A police officer said that at a recent meeting it was decided that the district police would provide fuel for the five boats. “But the boats can’t be operated till the lifeguards are appointed,” the officer said.

Prasenjit Bag, a tourist from Calcutta, said: “It is not possible for tourists to know how deep into the sea they can go or which stretch is unsafe. So the boats and more lifeguards are needed.”