The onset of the peak tourism season in the State has brought with it many fresh encroachers into the Fort Kochi and Mattancherry heritage locales.
Added to this is the irksome canvassing of foreign tourists by many vendors who have illegally put up ramshackle stalls in the once-pristine tourist hubs. They also litter the area with garbage and remnants of fish etc. Emboldened by political patronage, they have stalled many attempts to clear them from public spaces and footpaths.
Fed up with the menace posed by encroachers in the Vasco da Gama Square, the Kerala Tourism (KT) took the initiative in building about three dozen kiosks to rehabilitate the encroachers. “But many kiosks are now run by namesakes, with the original owners illegally setting up stalls elsewhere in the locale,” said a tourism official. He added that the encroachers can be removed in an hour's time if the district administration, Kochi Corporation, tourism authorities and the police initiated a joint move.
“It would suffice to remove a few stalls and the rest of the lot would be pulled down by the owners themselves. Most stalls have been put up by people from outside Fort Kochi, posing law and order problems too,” he said.
Many of the encroachers have stalls in the stretch from St. Francis Church to the Chinese fishing nets. “This is blocking a view of the heritage buildings here and also the famed nets,” said a Fort Kochi resident.
While pedestrians are the worst affected by the encroachments on footpaths and public spaces, many unscrupulous vendors have taken over the parking lots given on contract by the Kochi Corporation. Similar is the situation in Mattancherry, especially in front of the Dutch Palace.
Crass commercialization has resulted in hospitality stakeholders from different States setting up hotels and eateries all around Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. Too many hospitality stakeholders converging at a small locale is also acting as a strain on natural resources, especially on the piped and well water which are often short in supply, said another resident. “The indiscriminate exploitation of ground water often causes water shortage during summer months. There is also the threat of sea water seeping into the wells if the water table goes down considerably. Rainwater harvesting could be an alternative,” he said.