The sound and the fury that accompanied the arrival of this quiet fishing village on the tourism map of the world via the Kumbalangi Integrated Tourism Village project have died down.
Rolled out at the end of 2003, the project promised to transform the 15-sq. km-island into what Kerala Tourism Department website called “a model fishing village and tourism spot”.
The evolution of a clean fishing village where tourists could be comfortable was the cornerstone of the project, said K. Murali Menon, architect of the project, who also prepared its master plan. The plans were centred on evolving a tourism model that boosted the local economy and helped local entrepreneurs bloom. Environment protection, building infrastructure and preserving local culture and fares were other key objectives.
Ten years on, ministers and dignitaries are no more seen in newspaper reports as frequently visiting the village or cutting ribbons at the village functions. Nor are Kumbalangi’s famed crab farmers regularly on television screens holding up their prized catches.
The iconic Chinese fishing nets that dotted the sides of the Perumpadappu-Kumbalangi bridge are slowly disappearing from the skyline. Plastic containers and bags have been carelessly abandoned even in paddy fields.
The dream of using the project to revive cultivation of the salt-water resistant pokkali rice, which received geographical indication registration several years ago, has gone sour.
Road access to the model tourism village is narrow all along, and dismal along several stretches. There are hardly any footpaths along most of the length of the road that takes you from National Highway 47 to the southern end of the island. There are no longer talks of a ring road for Kumbalangi that would have allowed tourists to walk around the island to take in its stunning sceneries.
Storm water canals are few and far in between on the island, home to nearly 40,000 people. Drinking water is still rationed. Mammoth rows of empty water pots, waiting for water tankers, are common sights along the road that cuts through the middle of the island.
And, people wonder what has become of a grand proposal 10 years ago to build an artists’ centre or kalagramam to advance local art forms. They no longer hear of an ambitious programme which was launched to develop local entrepreneurship.
The Kumbalangi model tourism village project was the victim of lack of continuity in government policies, said Mr. Menon. He also claimed that the model found ready acceptance at the national level. The best of projects in the State have suffered from similar aberration, he said, pointing out that the Kumbalangi project was approved as India’s first model rural tourism project and had found ready acceptance at the UNDP level as a rural tourism project.
There are men and women, who demonstrate to tourists the arts of coir spinning and matting coconut leaves into thatches and fishing. A few home-stays have come up. But that was all, said M. P. Shivadathan, former president of Kumbalangi panchayat and president of Kumbalangi Model Tourism Development Society.
He endorsed Mr. Menon’s view that projects in the State often get tagged to particular ministers who initiated them. Once that happens, these projects, however impressive, are neglected or swept under the carpet.
However, Minister for Tourism A. P. Anilkumar said the government was open to the development of Kumbalangi village on the lines of the project. He said he would meet Union Minister of State for Food and Civil supplies K.V. Thomas on taking the project forward. Mr. Anilkumar said the Kumbalangi project would get all support from the government. Mr. Thomas, who was Tourism Minister when the Kumbalangi project was launched, could not be reached for comments. While there is a general disillusionment with the project, people also pointed out specific instances of failures.
The panchayat won the Nirmal Gramam Award but there was still no means for proper waste disposal, said convener of Government Employees’ Forum of Kerala Latin Catholic Association K. J. Xavier.
Panchayat president Usha Pradeep said the panchayat was helping people set up biogas plants envisaged in the Kumbalangi tourism project. In fact, she said, 300 of the proposed 500 plants have already been set up with the panchayat providing a subsidy of Rs. 12,000 per unit.
However, issues such as water shortage, poor roads and poorer drainage facilities continue to haunt the village, which despite all the drawbacks, continues to draw a large number of tourists. Mr. Shivadathan said around 6,000 tourists visit Kumbalangi yearly because they find it attractive.