Reclamation of land not complete; tourism officials at a loss
KOCHI: Nothing is working for Kumbalanghi these days, it seems. This little village on the suburbs of the city became a role model for rural tourism when it was marketed as the first model tourism village in the country.
Though the local community has benefited from the tourism industry, with the number of homestays shooting up in over three years, other components of tourism have lagged behind. The project was funded jointly by the United Nations Development Project, Union Government and the State Government.
One of the main components of the project was construction of a 4-acre Kalagramam or an Artist's Village in the middle of the backwater at Kallencheri in the panchayat. According to the proposal, the village was to house a handicrafts centre, a museum to preserve and exhibit traditional fishing equipment, an ethnic food court and an open-air theatre. The Artist's Village will also have a one-kilometre-long walkway along the banks of the backwater.
This new land was to be created using sand dredged out of the backwater spread over 14 acres. The dredging assignment was given to the Department of Harbour Engineering. They have completed dredging of 850 metres, starting from Perumpadappu Bridge.
The work began in July and was completed by October. But the area marked out for dumping the dredged sand has not improved much. An official of the Department of Harbour Engineering said that though it was expected sand would be dredged out, but the final product was slush.
The dredging was done at a cost of Rs. 35 lakhs, of which the Department of Tourism gave Rs.10 lakhs and the Agency for Development of Aquaculture, Kerala (ADAK) under the Department of Fisheries giving the rest.
Dredging was originally the ADAK's proposal to improve fish breeding, as the sand that has been accumulated at various points between Kumbalanghi and Perumpadappu was to be removed through dredging. The Department of Tourism joined it to find a new use for the dredged land.
"Neither Harbour Engineering officials nor those from the ADAK told us that there would not be enough sand to fill up these four acres. Or else we would not have started the work," said M.P. Sivadathan, president of the Kumbalanghi Model Tourism Development Society (KMTDS). He was the panchayat president when the work began.
The panchayat was expecting to get land ready for construction in 45 days after the dredging. Funds to the tune of Rs.50 lakhs were also identified for construction of the Kalagramam.
Request for more funds
"The panchayat has now requested the Department of Tourism to allot Rs.15 lakhs more. A representation to this effect was made to the Tourism Minister three weeks ago. Once this fund is allotted, we need only three months to dredge the backwater again and fill up the land," said John Pazheri, Kumbalanghi panchayat president.
It seems that the Kalagramam will take more for completion than it was expected. There was a mix-up between tourism project people and Department of Tourism. The grant of Rs.50 lakhs, which the tourism project people were planning to use for construction of the Kalagramam, was handed over by the Union Government to the State Government for promoting rural tourism.
This fund was used up for construction of walkways and boat jetty at the entrance of the village. This was a Rs.1-crore project. "We have now placed a new request with the Union Government for sanctioning Rs.50 lakhs for the Kalagramam," said Murali Menon, project coordinator.
The Kumbalanghi Model Tourism Village project has been planned for preserving and supporting the culture and tradition of the village. Even the tour packages, like 'serenading the backwater,' are so designed that visitors could enjoy the idyllic beauty of the land without interfering in the lives of the local people. The village had a capacity crowd at its homestays during this Christmas and New Year season.