After kids were through with their exams and Satish with his quarterly sales targets, he planned for a short idyllic trip to Mandarmani, a virgin beach, as his friends had suggested. The guest house, which was right on the beach, was booked and so was the vehicle that would take his family from Chawalkhola to Mandarmani after they get down from the bus. Little did Satish know that he was aiding illegal activity and was breaking the law himself.
Mandarmani, about 166 kms from Kolkata, is currently the most popular holiday destination for the Kolkattans. Families, students, professionals and couples are attracted equally to the serene beaches and the rippling blue waves. And thus, within a span of 8 years, economy of the place has changed drastically. Innumerable hotels and resorts have mushroomed near the beach, not to mention small shacks of tea, food etc, almost all of them illegal having violated the Environment Protection Act that bars any commercial activity within 500 metres of the maximum high-tide point, with people having to drive right across the beach, for about a stretch of 14 kms, to reach their destination trampling the sensitive ecology of the place on their way. And, the local fishermen have deserted their traditional way of life to keep pace the changing economy.
If you are a small-scale businessman and want maximum benefits from your investments then aquaculture and boarding lodges guarantee to provide you wholesome returns even if they have to break or bend a couple of laws. Spend a few bucks and you will have a fleet of musclemen with political blessings to safeguard your interests from nondescript environmental activists and officials. Even if there is a court order against you, it will take a lifetime to implement them. And so, legal or illegal, you can continue crunching currency and dump all your worries in the vast, vast sea.
Over Rs 500 crore boom in Mandarmani has swayed local panchayat and political leaders and the administration that prefers to go with the flow. The price of land has increased 20 times in 4-5 years, with a cottah selling at the current rate of Rs 80,000.
In the middle of 2006, the pollution control board had passed a closure order against a couple of hotels, which had been built flouting the 500-metre restriction without permission from the coastal regulation zone authority. The hotels had blatantly ignored the pollution control board as well before setting up their establishment. One of the hotels appealed to the state pollution appellate authority which, after an inquiry, directed the shifting of all illegally constructed hotels. Instead of shifting the hotels, new ones are rising day after day.
Disha, a non-government organisation, moved Calcutta High Court in 2007 against the government accusing it of failing to enforce the law. The following year, the court passed a directive barring further construction in the coastal regulatory zones till the disposal of the petition. But the administration made no effort to implement the order. The environment department filed a fresh FIR against another 53 “upcoming units” and the local Ramnagar police station initiated cases against some but to no avail. The environment department is now planning to move a case of contempt against the hotels.
The government has admitted that hotels continue to be built between the high-tide and low-tide points. The officials of the hotelier’s association however said that they have built the hotels with the panchayat’s permission and despite repeated requests for a solution; they never received any cooperation from the government.
There is no road, electricity connection and sewer lines in Mandarmani. And, all the refuse from the hotels are dumped right into the sea. Traditionally a fishing village, Mandarmani has over 5,000 fishermen in and around it who make their living from the sea. The fishermen say the high pollution level near the shore has forced the fishes into the deep-sea. A member of the fishermen association said that the pollution is such that 1 kg of plastic is dredged in by the net for every 30 kg of fish.
The virgin beach of Madarmani is being marauded by so-called developmental activities. Tourists cannot fight with the goons nor can they question the musclemen. But they can certainly choose to stay in a lodge that is not illegal, can avail the village road and not drive through the beach to reach Mandarmani and last but not the least, watch what they are leaving behind.