Killer Puri sea claims 78 in 3 years

Bhubaneswar: The sea beach in holy town Puri attracts tourists from far and wide, but it has turned a killer too, accounting for death of at least 78 persons in the last three years.
"At least 31 persons, including 14 students, have lost their lives while bathing in this year alone,“ An NGO Beach Protection Council of Odisha (BPCO) said. Its president, Jagannath Bastia, said there were 26 casualties in 2010, while 21 persons died in 2009.

Expressing concern over the death of so many tourists, Odisha chief secretary B K Patnaik said the state government would soon identify places along a seven-km-long stretch of the beach which is the most dangerous. The state government would soon put safety measures in place at the Puri beach and additional life guards would be deployed for the safety of the tourists, he promised.

However, BPCO and some other NGOs blamed the state government for the frequent death of tourists on the beach. "We have been drawing attention of the government for five years. But no action has been taken," Bastia said hoping the recent decision of the chief secretary would be implemented.

Though the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) had asked the state government to appoint 100 traditional fishermen as special home guards to protect lives of tourists, the district police engaged them in traffic and other activities, Bastia alleged.

The OHRC in its direction to the state government in 2010 had also asked the Toursim Department to run an awareness campaign among tourists on precautions to be taken during bath. "Don`t blame the police alone for the deaths; it requires combined efforts of the police, hoteliers, NGOs and the local fishing community to ensure safety of tourists," Superintendent of Police, Puri, A N Sinha said.

He, however, pointed out that most of the students who died while bathing had been found to have consumed alcohol. The SP also denied an allegation that newly recruited home guards were engaged in traffic management and activities other than tourist protection.

On deployment of life guards, Puri municipality chairperson Shantilata Pradhan said, "With very limited resources, we are not in a position to appoint life guards. If the government arranges funds, we have no hesitation to appoint adequate life guards," Pradhan said

Puri tourist officer Bijay Kumar Jena on the other hand said the Tourism Department was prepared to provide all logistics, but the hotel owners and their association should come forward to help tourists.

Demanding immediate identification of safe bathing spots along the beach, the Hotel Owners Association, Puri, blamed the administration for the loss of lives. "We have made all safety arrangements for tourists in hotels. But, how can the hotel owners give protection to tourists at the sea beach and outside?" HOA secretary Rajkishore Patra wondered.

Bastia said the sea current is particularly strong during full moon and new moon days and therefore tourists, particularly the young, should be made aware of the fact while they venture into the sea.

A fisherman, however, blamed the tourists themselves for the state of affairs. "What is the point in blaming others? The tourists who spend hefty amounts in merry-making are reluctant to spend Rs 100 or Rs 200 for their safety. Everyone taking bath in sea should take help of local fishermen," Sambhu Reddy, a traditional fisherman, having two decades of experience in the sea, said.