“Bewilderment greets locals as well as tourists thronging the picturesque beach all along the Visakhapatnam Bheemunipatnam coast as they are confronted with a strange phenomenon. The waterfront so dear to them has taken a backward march” [The Hindu, 02/02/2005]
Fortunately for Visakhapatnam the Tsunami was experienced through a few low intensity tremors and the flooding of the port area with seawaters. The environmental experts and the people of Visakhapatnam have now woken up to importance for the implementation of Coastal Zone Regulations. These regulations have been more violated than implemented. The violations are generally made by the state development agencies in the guise of development. Visakhapatnam has and continues to bear the brunt of the violations and dilutions through amendments, of the coastal regulations.
For the past decade Vizag has been subjected to unplanned development and rampant violations of the CRZ on its coast by the state government and the local urban development Authority VUDA and the VMC. The first massive case of violation a decade ago was by the hatcheries, which appropriated large tracts of the coastline between Bheemunipatnam and Visakhapatnam. The CRZ was amended to make room for massive construction activity on the beach to facilitate these industries under pressure from the state agencies and the entrepreneurs sponsored by them. The fishermen have not only lost their fishing grounds but their catch has diminished over the years because of the effluents let out into the sea by these hatcheries. A sewage treatment plant was also built at the same time to treat the city waste. This was located on the beach and right next to a fishing settlement in the city. The PIL filed against this project fell through and now Vizag has a STP right on the coast.
Soon after the Hatchery rush, the state governments woke up to the immense tourism potential of Visakhapatnam. There was massive leasing out of the coastline to the highest bidder. The lands have been appropriated by these so called tourism entrepreneurs, thankfully for now they lie vacant because of various unresolved issues with the forest department ad the shore development authority. The attempts to dilute the CZR are continuing in the name of tourism development and going by the past developments, it will not be long before Visakhapatnam loses these acres of beautiful coastline to the land sharks in the disguise of tourism entrepreneurs. And as they occupy and exploit the coastline the future of the local fisher folk community becomes more precarious.
Two year back the local Urban Development Authority (VUDA) under instructions of the Ex Chief Minister of AP decided to go in for a road widening exercise of the beach road from Vizag to Bhimli. In spite of several representations made by the public and a PIL against this activity, the hills are being hacked off and the beach area is being backfilled to make way for a road.
The local fishing community remains in a dilemma as to what is going to be their fate as the road works progress towards their settlements.
The recently prepared Draft Master Plan has also failed to address the development policy for the coastline. The Land use pattern on the draft master plan has not considered the unique & characteristic beauty of the coastline and the indigenous population sustaining this environment. The planners have merely left it to the implementation of the coastal regulation zone while at the same time declaring a large area as tourism development zone. The basis for selection of this area is ambiguous and vague. Public objections submitted to the VUDA by the fisher folk community seem to have been largely ignored.
The latest plan for the coast is to acquire lands on the coast for IT sector. What these gated, secure and artificially conditioned environments will contribute to the beach is anybodies guess. Another case of inappropriate land use for the coastline being foisted on the citizens of Visakhapatnam that is in violation of the CRZ.
These continuing gross violations of the CRZ and the lack of commitment from the government to implement them has in a sense violated all the statutory rights of the fishing community. They are not only losing their means of livelihood but their settlements are also under threat as the city encroaches on their turf and “development” pushes them over the edge. A development agenda that till now has only destroyed the coastline and replaced the once, naturally beautiful beaches with garbage and sewage dumps and artificially created monstrosities.
In the backdrop of all this, the fishing community has come together to present an alternative for the development of the coast that is more appropriate and sustainable.
The project had its genesis in the belief that the coast has sustained the fishermen communities and they have in return sustained it over centuries. It is therefore thanks to the existence and the ecofriendly practices adopted by the fishing community that Visakhapatnam still retains its tourism potential. The CRZ also recognizes this contribution by the indigenous community and extends them certain exclusive rights over the coast.
Natural conservation of the coastline and the socioeconomic up gradation of the indigenous fishing community being the focus of their interest, they have proposed a project that dovetails the activities of the fishing community into the tourism development objectives of the government.
The project is based on the following objectives
- PROTECT AND REJUVENATE THE COASTAL ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY: The proposed tourist camp shall not in any disturb the existing natural features of the area and aforestation activity shall be taken up in the site where the indigenous species of plants shall be grown to mitigate the effects of cyclones and other natural calamities.
- CREATE A UNIQUE TOURISM DESTINATION: In spite of various agencies having made investments in tourism the projects in visakhapatnam, they have been unable to attract tourists as the facilities provided have nothing unique to offer, whereas the fishing village tourist camp shall be the first to offer the tourists a unique opportunity to experience the adventures and the moods of the sea through their daily activities and also give them an insight into their cultural and social life. Visakhapatnam is the resource for a variety of seafoods but it does not have an eating facility that can provide this cuisine to the seafood lovers. In the tourist camp, the fishermen, who are a ready resource for fresh sea food, shall provide the people with exclusive taste of their cuisine and also other sea foods
- GENERATE AWARENESS AMONGST THE PEOPLE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: Concepts of appropriate technology shall be adopted in this camp by the use of sustainable methods of waste disposal and recycling and renewable energy resources. They aim to make this camp as a place that shall sensitize the people about the need to protect their environment and also disseminate information about eco friendly methods.
- ESTABLISH A PROTOTYPE FOR FUTURE TOURISM INITATIVES IN VISAKHAPATNAM: The main objective of this camp is to develop a working prototype that shall be used as a case study and for sustainable tourism development along the coast and also as a project that can prove the efficacy of eco tourism concepts in development.
- STAY WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF COASTAL REGULATIONS: Since the project has been conceived as an initiative against the violation of the CRZ it will follow all the rules and challenge the popular belief that these rules are a hindrance to tourism development. All the structures in this camp will be of temporary nature. The principle of reduce and recycle of wate shall be used in this camp.
- SUSTAIN AND ENHANCE THE TOURISM POTENTIAL OF VIZAG: The primary reason for the tourism potential of Vizag is its picturesque coastline that can be attributed to the interesting land profile where the hills gently roll into the sea. The camp and the eco friendly activities it proposes shall respect this potential by conserving the natural beauty of the coast.
- SUSTAIN AND UPLIFT THE INDIGENOUS FISHING COMMUNITY: The local fishing community of nearly 400 villages which forms an integral part of vizag history and culture is slowly bieing decimated due to the pressures of urbanization and the unplanned development that has come along with it.The poverty alleviation programmes and the numerous NGOs working in this sector have made negligible progress in improving their lot. About 60% of the population in the villages has abandoned their traditional profession of fishing and has moved to the cities to work as construction labour or to join the staff of the large trawler operators.However this has not improved the life in the village.and they are only a shade better than their counterparts who continue the profession of fishing. The literacy levels are also low with only 30% of the children undergoing primary education. Tourism being a hospitality it is largely dependant on the hospitality shown to the tourists by the locals. It is therefore impossible promote tourism projects at the expense of the local fishing community. they have to be made a part of the tourism development process so as to be able to make Visakhapatnam a sought after tourism destination.
The tourist camp is a project that shall be set up run by the fisherfolk. This project shall therefore give the fishermen an opportunity to reap the benefits tourism development and at the same time enhance the tourism potential of the place. The project proposal comprises of a tourist camping facility on the Vizag Bhimli Beach to cater to the national and international tourists visiting Vizag. The Site selected for grounding this project is based on the following criteria
- Within 20 km radius from the city limits
- Located on the beach i.e. seaward side of the beach road.
- Minimum depth of the beach from the high tide line is 200m
- Scenic beauty in terms of vegetation and rock formations
- Area suitable for docking of fishermen’s boats
- Proximity to fishermen’s villages.
The site tentatively selected lies between the INS Kalinga area and the Thimmapuram village. It is a stretch of 500m and is vegetated with casuarinas and palm trees. The total area required for the first phase is 10 acres. The fishermen community will run the camp in collaboration with the consultants wherever required. The Activities planned and the local community and professional collaboration given below
- Construction: Local masons and craftsmen with Architect / architecture students
- Marketing: Local youth with marketing enterprise / consultant
- Hospitality: Local enterprise / cooperative with hotel management enterprise / consultant
- Fishing and boating: Fishermen
- Trails / treks: Local youth with local-region trekking association
- Training camps / workshops: Local youth involved in outbound activities, etc
- Youth from the fisher folk community have been identified to run the camp. The fishing community will also be the resource base for all the seafood items that are required by this facility. In addition to this they will demonstrate their skills in the craft of fishing, boat making and net making to the tourists.
The local fishing community has presented this proposal to the tourism department and it is awaiting the allocation of land by the government so that the project can be grounded.
They have since made several representations to the local tourism development authorities, and the collector, but there seems to be no progress. In spite of all the hype about eco tourism by the government representatives and the tourism officials there seems to be a total lack of commitment towards supporting these projects especially when they come without the frills of grandiose plans, megabuck investments and foreign collaboration.
The fisher folk are hopeful that Ms Renuka Chowdhary the tourism minister, who has on many occasions spoken about ecotourism and its benefits, lends her support to this project.