Alappuzha Heritage Project in limbo

21 museums, 11 monuments, 5 public places form part of the Rs.200-crore project

Updated - July 15, 2022 10:40 am IST

Published - July 14, 2022 04:47 pm IST - ALAPPUZHA

The dilapidated 160-plus-year-old pier on the Alappuzha beach.

The dilapidated 160-plus-year-old pier on the Alappuzha beach. | Photo Credit: SURESH ALLEPPEY

The Gujarati Street in Alappuzha municipality, with its heritage buildings and mansions -- mostly built during the colonial era, has many stories to tell. It was here that the 1992 Malayalam blockbuster Vietnam Colony was filmed. But most importantly, and in the annals of history, the Gujarati Street will be remembered for its significant role in the evolution of Alappuzha as a port town. 

After the Diwan of Travancore Raja Kesavadas developed the Alappuzha port in 1762, the Venice of the East became the trade centre for spices, coir and so on. Several Gujarati merchants belonging to Jains, Kutchi Memons, Parsis and Vaishnavites moved and settled across the Commercial canal, which later became the Gujarati Street. After decades of maritime trade hegemony and development, the port town lost its glory as another port in Kochi flourished. The Gujarati Street, which once housed hundreds of families, shops and establishments of Gujarati communities and witnessed a great deal of activities, now paints a contrasting view with some of the old structures crumbling and in a dilapidated state. Fewer than 40 families of Gujarati origin remain as majority left for pastures new. That said, its long-cherished heritage is an invaluable treasure that needs to be protected. 

Heritage project

Aware of its importance, the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF) government proposed to restore Gujarati heritage areas as part of the multi-crore Alappuzha Heritage Project. The project covers the entire ‘Gujarati Quarters’, which includes the Beach road, Gujarati Street and the Muppalam (triple bridge) area along with the creation of Orma Theruvu (memory street). Unfortunately, many years have passed, but the project has hardly made any progress. 

A view of the Gujarati street.

A view of the Gujarati street. | Photo Credit: SURESH ALLEPPEY

“Gujarati Street conservation is one of the several components of the ambitious Alappuzha Heritage Project. The community was eagerly looking for the project to enter the implementation phase. Although a memorandum of understanding was signed between Muziris Project Ltd. and Anil Seth (a businessman belonging to the community who left Alappuzha a few years ago) to convert one of his heritage properties here into a Gujarati Heritage Centre on a profit-sharing basis two years ago, the work has not been tendered yet. 

“It has raised concerns among other members of the community who were willing to hand over their properties for the project. To my knowledge, Anil Seth is planning to withdraw from the agreement as nothing is happening on the project implementation front,” says a person in the know, who is a member of the Gujarati community in Alappuzha. 

Further west, remnants of the old sea pier on the Alappuzha beach, a pivotal part of the port, are set to join the vast expanse of the ocean soon. A proposal for its conservation along with the construction of a new sea pier, another component of the heritage project, has yet to gain momentum. 

The much-touted Alappuzha Heritage Project mooted by former Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac to reclaim the lost glory of the old port town by conserving and putting on view its unique history and heritage to the general public has almost come to a standstill. 

At a snail’s pace

The more than Rs. 200-crore heritage project, which aims at giving Alappuzha town a facelift, includes setting up 21 museums by converting dilapidated heritage buildings, 11 monuments and developing five public places. Apart from inaugurating the Soukar Masjid buildings, a Miyawaki forest, the first phase of canal rejuvenation and port museum building in 2020, most of the other components of the project are either moving at a snail’s pace or in a slumber. 

The decommissioned Fast Attack Craft (IN FAC) T-81 on the Alappuzha beach.

The decommissioned Fast Attack Craft (IN FAC) T-81 on the Alappuzha beach. | Photo Credit: SURESH ALLEPPEY

The project is being implemented under the guidance of Muziris Project Ltd. 

The dilapidated 160-plus-year-old pier on the Alappuzha beach.

The dilapidated 160-plus-year-old pier on the Alappuzha beach. | Photo Credit: SURESH ALLEPPEY

“The enthusiasm that we saw during the previous LDF government is missing now. The present Left front government is indifferent to the Alappuzha Heritage Project. Despite the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board and various departments sanctioning funds, nothing much has happened on the implementation front in the last year or so. A lack of interest at the top is delaying the project. Even the museums and other projects proposed on government land are hardly making any progress,” says someone closely associated with the project. He also blamed Lokame Tharavadu, a contemporary art exhibition held across some of the heritage venues last year, for hampering the overall progress of the project. 

Tryst with coir

Alappuzha’s tryst with coir dates back to the 19th Century. After the establishment of the first factory in 1859, some 25 major factories sprang up in and around Alappuzha town within a short time. The move to conserve some of the abandoned factories and godowns constructed by the Europeans and turn them into museums remains stuck halfway. Among them are the Yarn Museum, Museum of Coir History and Museum of Labour Movement. While buildings for the Yarn Museum at the Coirfed compound have been conserved, the museum work has yet to be completed. Both the coir history and labour movement museums are nowhere near opening. In the case of the port museum, other than conserving the godowns and installing the decommissioned Fast Attack Craft (IN FAC) T-81, no further progress has been made yet. 

A dilapidated building on the Gujarati street.

A dilapidated building on the Gujarati street. | Photo Credit: SURESH ALLEPPEY

Manoj Kumar K, managing director (in-charge), Muziris Project, says they plan to complete the entire Alappuzha Heritage Project in two years. “Once the heritage project is completed, Alappuzha will become a major tourism destination in the country and a major attraction in the world. It is an integrated project comprising several living museums, monuments and the development of public places. Conservation of the Leo XIII School and Makham Masjid has been completed and it will be inaugurated soon. The Tourism Minister has issued directions for the completion of other components of the project including museums on a war footing,” says Mr. Kumar, while adding that funds remain an issue for the project. 

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