With his turn to fish arriving only once in six days, boating trips on Pulicat Lake were essential to inland fisherman A. Patrick’s livelihood.
Patrick, who lives in Nadur Madha Kuppam near the lake, had been boating on the lake for over 15 years when a Christmas day mishap in 2011 in which 22 persons of a family lost their lives, put an end to his earnings.
“The police and district administration have banned all joy trips on the lake. Since we don’t get much out of fishing, we either just sit at home or do other odd jobs. We have children going to school and college, so it is often difficult to make ends meet. We watch tourists entering Pulicat, but can do nothing,” he said.
The ban has dealt the death knell to joy trips on the lake and into the sea. Over the last 10 years, Pulicat has grown in popularity, with families who visit during weekends and on school and festival holidays.
Visitors flock to the lake during the bird-watching season, and on any given day there are at least 1,000 people at the lakeside. On Kannum Pongal alone, estimates put the number of visitors at around 1 lakh.
“We cannot even take bird-watching enthusiasts to the various islands the lake is dotted with. Earlier, we used to take people to the islands and even cook fresh prawns and crabs caught on the lagoon for them,” The lake is known for its seafood. Before the bridge came into being, we used to ferry locals to various islands but now even that is not possible,” said Desappan, another fisherman.
Several proposals to develop facilities for tourists have not taken off since 2004. A recent detailed development report for the lake and areas under the four neighbouring panchayats is yet to be implemented. The consultant had submitted a plan for conserving the area at a cost of Rs. 27 crore and had suggested the construction of toilets, installation of street lights, and the creation of a heritage park at the spot where the remnants of the Dutch Fort Geldria stand as well as the installation of a jetty.
Tiruvallur district collector Veera Raghava Rao said the administration was coordinating with the State tourism and forest departments to get the projects cleared as soon as possible.
“The 720 sq. km lake is a wildlife sanctuary and any kind of development activity requires clearance from the National Board for Wildlife Protection. We have plans to form a cooperative of fishermen and create boating facilities. But all that is subject to clearance,” he said.