Prime tourist spot Fort Kochi suffers from commercialisation
Fort Kochi, the prime tourist locale in Central Kerala, is being smothered because of the apathy of government agencies in enforcing rules.
Traders who encroach into public space in Fort Kochi have been invigorated by the rise in footfalls because of the ongoing biennale. The fear is rife that the ineptitude of Kerala Tourism in taking the lead to maintain the locale’s charm will soon sound the death knell for tourism in Fort Kochi.
The tourist inflow into Fort Kochi plays a key role in keeping the cash registers ringing for Kerala Tourism and other stakeholders in the sector.
Over the past few years, commercialisation has been slowly gnawing at the roots of what was once a clean, scenic and silent heritage zone. Entrepreneurs, unscrupulous vendors encroaching on public space and criminals who are omnipresent call the shots here.
The worst offenders are fish sellers and those who have opened eateries in Vasco Da Gama Square and all along the beach. Apart from dirtying the area, these eyesores hamper a proper view of the beach, the Chinese nets and heritage structures.
The main attractions – the beach, the Chinese nets, the open spaces and the Indo-European architecture — are losing their sheen.
On their part, the District Administration and Fort Kochi Heritage Conservation Society are not keen on removing the encroachers who have put up shacks covered with plastic, and vendors who pester guests to purchase their wares.
The Kochi Corporation, which has a regional office near the beach, and police too are mute spectators despite littering, occupation of footpaths, walkways and other public spaces and rampant violation of heritage norms.
Corporation Secretary Ajith Patil said the encroachers would be removed “at the earliest”.
Tourism Police personnel who patrol the locale have failed to keep an eye on encroachments that are taking place in an organised manner.
“Rule violators thrive because they have the covert support of politicians and corrupt officials in different departments,” said a hotelier on condition of anonymity. “A few years down the lane, Fort Kochi will remind people of the proverbial goose that laid golden eggs,” he said. He wondered why vendors encroached into public space when the Kerala Tourism had built over 30 kiosks for them near the beach and at different places in the heritage zone. Kerala Tourism’s cleanliness and heritage-preservation projects worth crores of rupees have either been non-starters or ended in failure because of the lack of follow-up action.
Promises to keep
Kerala Tourism’s promise of providing an image makeover for the locale under a central project worth Rs 10 crore remains on paper for over four years since it was mooted. “A consultant has been appointed and a study is underway,” said a tourism official.
Halfway through the work, the tourism department has abandoned the construction of walkway along the beach. The costly granite blocks that were used to pave the Vasco Square and footpaths in the vicinity have come off at most places for want of upkeep.
“The heritage lamp posts that were installed from Kamalakadavu to the St Francis Church have begun rusting and the lights atop them do not work,” said Austin Paul, a Fort Kochi resident and the president of International Forum for Cultural Heritage and Tradition (IFCHAT).
A worse testimony to Fort Kochi’s plight is the sole public toilet located near Cochin Club. Visitors, especially foreigners, do not dare to enter the structure.