By: Express News Service Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai | Updated: June 29, 2020 1:07:35 am
Visitors at Varsoli beach, a popular tourist destination three hours away from Mumbai, in Alibag. (Photo by Amit Chakravarty)
AT VARSOLI beach in Alibag, a tourist destination three hours away from Mumbai, local residents have been taking turns to accompany the police in turning back tourists from assembling on the promenade.
“For the past two weeks, there has been a surge in tourists from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and parts of Raigad crowding at the beach.
They say they were feeling suffocated at home and request that they should be allowed to spend time here,” said a woman police constable on-duty at the beach.
Norms on reopening the lockdown allow use of the beach for physical activities but does not permit gathering in large numbers. An increase in number of tourists has also been reported in other weekend getaways like Lonavala and Khandala, where police last week filed FIRs under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant) of the Indian Penal Code against groups of tourists. Districtauthorities said that action has not been taken against any tourists in Alibag so far.
At Varsoli, local residents said that since the way to the beach was through the village, there have been apprehensions that large number of tourists coming from red zones might lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases. So far, only two cases have been reported in the village with a population of over 4,000. After observing an increase in the number of tourists based on their vehicle registration numbers, residents have now blocked two main entrances to the beach.
Some residents said that many tourists were seen requesting police to allow them access to the beach by stating that they were locals. “We then decided to have locals accompany the police to help them identify tourists and request them to return,” said Akash Rane, a local resident.
On the promenade, the sound of crashing waves is accompanied by a faint shrill of a whistle being used by a police official to stop tourists from coming to the beach.
Another resident Pratik Warde, who has been stationed at the beach with the police, said tourists usually come before sunset. While most residents in the area are dependent on tourism for their livelihood, they said it cannot come at the cost of their health.
Milind Kawale, deputy sarpanch of village, said the decision was taken by residents as a preventive measure since tourists were assembling in large numbers and were not following social distancing norms. “Due to Cyclone Nisarg, there has been damage to the beach front. There is no electricity on the promenade and the CCTV cameras too have been damaged. We do not want any illegal activities taking place in the area,” he said. All home stays and holiday cottages too remain closed in the area.
On other famous beach fronts in Alibag too, locals said they refrain tourists from assembling. In Kashid, which falls under Chikni village’s jurisdiction, residents have planned to put up a board highlighting that the beach was closed. As many as 42 stalls on the beach, offering food, swimming equipment, changing rooms for tourists, have been damaged due to the cyclone on June 3. “We have already faced losses during the lockdown and then the cyclone. If the infection is spread in the village, it will be difficult to manage,” says gram sabha member Santosh Rane.
At Varsoli, even as the two entrances remain blocked with tree trunks, groups of tourists have managed to find a way to access the beach through a nearby crematorium’s entrance. A few take selfies, otherssit and stare at the sea. “It has been so suffocating in these few months of lockdown. It just feels good to sit by the sea,” said Leela Patil, a resident of Panvel, an hour’s drive from Alibag, who was visiting the beach with her teenage daughter.
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