KERALA

Encroachers to be evicted from April end

THREAT TO HEALTH: Encroachers in the walkway and the beach in Fort Kochi have spoiled the serenity of the area. The shacks on the beach are a threat to hygiene. Photo: Mahesh Harilal

THREAT TO HEALTH: Encroachers in the walkway and the beach in Fort Kochi have spoiled the serenity of the area. The shacks on the beach are a threat to hygiene. Photo: Mahesh Harilal  

John L. Paul

KOCHI: : Encroachers will be evicted from the Fort Kochi beach and either side of the walkway there by April end.

The decision was taken at a meeting on April 13, presided over by the Fort Kochi RDO, Mini Antony. The Principal Secretary for Tourism, E.K. Bharat Bhushan, said that encroachers were being removed as part of the `Destination Cleaning' programme of the State Tourism Department.

Heritage zone

"The heritage zone in Fort Kochi has to be maintained in its original form. Unless squatters and those selling wares in handcarts are removed, it will be difficult to carry out further heritage-conservation work in the area. The area has to be maintained clean, or otherwise tourists will turn off, affecting the inflow to the destination which is popular worldwide. This is why removal of encroachers is our first priority," he said.

The Fort Kochi Heritage Development Society had been entrusted with ensuring the cleanliness of the beach after the Tourism Minister, K.C. Venugopal, announced the `Destination Cleaning' programme in October.

Illegal shacks

The temporary, thatched shacks put up along the beachfront and on the side of the walkway have been increasing by the day, affecting a clear view of the beach, the Chinese fishing nets and the sea.

The shacks selling seafood (under the `You buy, We cook' label) are a threat to hygiene since they neither have waste-disposal systems nor proper water and power connections. Beer is served in some shacks at night, in gross violation of rules.

Drug peddling

Even the police admit that drug peddling is rampant in the area. It was with the aim of ensuring law and order in the area and to remove encroachers that the District Collector was placed at the helm of the heritage-development society.

The rampant encroachment on the beach took place directly under the nose of the Fort Kochi Police, personnel of the Tourist Police and the Corporation office, which is hardly 50 m away from the walkway.

Best time

A senior official in the Kochi regional office of the Tourism Department said that the tourist off-season is the best time to evict vendors.

"Business is going down by the day and encroachers can be evicted without much protest. Sadly, those who have installed the shacks enjoy a lot of political patronage. They repeatedly thwart attempts by Government agencies to relocate them to the 24 kiosks built near Thakur House, despite the Corporation handing us a list of vendors. The proposal to landscape the area at a cost of Rs. 22 lakhs has been hanging fire because of the delay in removing encroachers. If this situation is allowed to continue, tourists will be turned away from Fort Kochi," he said.

He said that after removing vendors from the beach, the focus should be on removing vendors who have encroached on the Vasco Da Gama Square, the area near the beginning of the walkway and on roads and pavements in the heritage zone.

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