My heart still grieves for my bright and enthusiastic journalist colleague, Mahalaxmi Hariharan, who lost her life in a drowning accident two years ago…
She was with her her husband and friends river rafting in Kundalika River. Tragically, the raft overturned, due to a sudden rise in water levels. While the others survived, the expedition turned out to be fatal for her.
I still recall how several years ago when I was covering a story at Khandala, I noticed two young men running down a small hill wildly gesticulating at me. Overcome with fear and helplessness, they said, that while taking a few pictures at a waterfall, one of their friends was suddenly washed away by the fury of the waterfall. All I could do to help, was to take them to the police station in my car. I still remember the incident though and vividly.
What is more agonising, is the stark truth, that tragic incidents like these are not rare cases of people losing their lives during the monsoons. They repeating with heart-wrenching regularity year after year.
The classic paradox of nature.
The Sahyadri Hills around Pune magically transform into bewitching beauties with clouds kissing their hills. Their majestic waterfalls gushing through their bosoms and the lush greenery adding the raindrop laden cold breeze.
This enchanting landscape beckons thousands of youngsters, to rejoice in the rain at the head and foot of large waterfalls and more recently on rafting and boat expeditions.
And, it is in this celebration that danger lurks…
The danger is of course being further accentuated by the reckless behaviour displayed at these locations or at times, the lack of adequate safety measures (by the organisations managing river rafting expeditions etc) as in the case of Mahalaxmi’s accident.
One of the major epicentres of these accidents is the Bhushi Dam in Lonavala that has witnessed drowning deaths every year for the past two decades!
The weekends see over a lakh revellers, most in their youth swoop down on the twin hill stations of Lonavala-Khandala.
The brimming lakes of Khadakvasla, Panshet and areas like Malshej and Tamhini Ghats are patronised by the young to revel in the rains. Unfortunately, it isn’t only about enjoying the sights and experience but the reckless behaviour that makes these trips potentially life threatening.
Binge drinking and the selfie craze at these locations often lead to loss of balance and control leading to drowning and fatal falls. Often it is the foolhardy courageous attempt to swim in choppy waters without realising the fury of the currents that can pull you in once for all. More often than once, it is too late to even seek help and yet another tragedy occurs.
I have covered the initiatives and relentless efforts made by the Lonavala Police using social awareness and stern implementation. Yet, caution is thrown to the winds, in the name of pleasure and enjoyment.
Take the case of Goa where I have seen constant patrolling by jeeps, cautioning people on the beaches to stay away from the choppy waters. Despite this, most continue to be in the waters during the high tide.
I was shocked by their audacity and recklessness, but that’s the mentality of many revellers. They pay no heed to even official warnings.
It is pertinent to mention here that several fly-by-night operators organise boating and river rafting expeditions with little regard for safety.
River Rafting is an intense activity and comprehensive orientation and training must be imparted to those who sign up, Yet, several organisers hardly care for basic safety guidelines.
Also, the sudden rise in water levels in rivers is often due to release of water from the dams so it is the duty of the organisers to be in touch with the authorities to know exactly when water is going to be released.
Similarly, it is the duty of the authorities to ban rafting and boating expeditions in precarious conditions. It is also the duty of revellers to find out what they are in for and weigh the dangers carefully before signing up.
Most of them depend solely on operator websites which visually portray a perfect experience, yet, in reality, it is often conducted without enough safety measures in place.
Yes. it is nice to be outdoors and enjoy the wonderful monsoon and the beauty of mother nature, but it is equally important to stay aware of the dangers and revel with caution and respect for natures unpredictability…
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,