A steady line of asbestos-roofed shops and stalls with thatched roof have come up to the length of the unmanned watchtower, barely a few feet from the breaking waves

The frothy waves of the sea break against the wheels of a hawker’s cart. A poor woman sells her ripe, red chilly powder-spruced mangoes sitting on the damp sea sand as the waves stand poised to tease every now and then.

And all around, children and adults frolic in the sea oblivious of the invisible beach that has been taken over by a colony of asbestos-roofed “shops,” and powerless hawkers.

These are the stark images that hit the onlooker at Velankanni, where the sea exists without a beach, thanks to commercial invasion. Velankanni, which hosts the revered Basilica of Our Lady of Health and receives a few lakh tourists each pilgrim season — especially in the summers — is not as touristy, since the only recreation of the sea by the basilica has lost its charm, thanks to the encroachments.

A steady line of asbestos-roofed shops and stalls with thatched roof have come up to the length of the unmanned watchtower, barely a few feet from the breaking waves. This relatively powerful commercial lobby has literally pushed the poor hawker and the woman vendor into the waters, taking over the beach. This has left the pilgrim-tourist with not an inch of the beach for recreation. “These unauthorised shops were evicted earlier, but they have come up again. The Revenue Department is to be blamed,” says an office-bearer of the Velakanni town panchayat, requesting anonymity. Almost all constructions within the 500 metres are encroachments, but only these small-time shopkeepers are touched, says a local.

The area falls within the Coastal Regulation Zone and is under the Revenue Department’s jurisdiction. However, the Velankanni Town Panchayat is facing criticism for the encroachments over which it lacks jurisdiction. Thomas Alwa Edison, chairperson of the town pachayat, says: “We have no control over these unauthorised buildings. We have also made a representation to the district administration.”

Collector T. Munusamy said action would be initiated after the counting of votes polled in the Lok Sabha elections. “We had removed them earlier. But we’ll intervene again with police help, once the counting is over,” he told The Hindu.

More In: Tamil Nadu | National