The red laterite cliff fringing the Papanasam beach, a famed tourist spot here, has been facing the threat of extinction, mainly from unauthorised constructions and piling works. The authorities, however, seem to be unaware of the need to protect the cliff, which has geological significance.

With earth caving in at several places along the 80-ft-high cliff, walking on a narrow pathway bordering it is a big risk. Fissures have developed at several spots along the 2.5-metre-wide pathway, used by tourists to walk to the beach and the helipad areas. Hundreds of local people staying on the northern side of the cliff also use the pathway, dotted by many shops.

Huge chunks of earth precariously hang from the top of the cliff at several places. Unauthorised constructions and piling work atop the cliff and movement of vehicles on the pathway are cited as the main reasons for frequent landslips.

Under the rule, only temporary constructions can be undertaken two metres from the pathway bordering the cliff. But it is seldom followed and the authorities do not initiate action against those violating the rule.

A permanent fencing using cacti and pineapple was mooted to protect the cliff. But the proposal was turned down following the apprehensions raised by the local people and the stakeholders of the tourism industry that such a fence will invite reptiles. Another proposal to use coir netting and grow a special type of grass in it to prevent the further sliding of the cliff has failed to take off. Laying geo-textiles, used by Railways in several stretches prone to landslip, has also been mooted.

K.R. Biju, chairman of the Varkala municipality, said the shortage of funds was the major problem for the municipality in coming up with a scheme to protect the cliff.

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