IDUKKI: When the last flower is crushed and the last hill razed, Munnar will be a graveyard of broken dreams. It’s not the musings of naysayers, it’s the writing on the wall.
Prolonged controversies over encroachments and eviction drives have cast a grim shadow over the `15,000-crore tourism sector in Munnar.
The hill town’s tryst with tourism began with the blooming of Neelakurinji in 1994. As per the statistics available with the State Tourism Department, nearly 5 lakh tourists visit Munnar any given year.
However, investors are now wary.
“We stand by the government move to evict encroachers, however, the hue and cry over evictions will hit tourism industry hard,” Dileep Pottenkulam, president of Munnar Hotels and Resorts Association (MHRA), tells ‘Express’.
A slight decline has already been witnessed in the booking of rooms this vacation season, he says.
One of the major challenges facing Devikulam Sub-Collector Sriram Venkitaraman will be clearing encroachments without affecting the tourism industry in Munnar.
As the hill town is an ecologically-fragile land in the sensitive Western Ghats, experts view the issue from different vantage points.
Nature enthusiasts and ardent environmentalists are clamouring for total demolition of encroachments, other than tribal settlements, to promote the ‘Parambikkulam model’ tourism. But some Revenue officers have recommended an amendment to the Kerala Land Assignment Rules 1964 to regularise the functioning of existing hotels and resorts.
“As per rules, ‘patta’ land can be used only for agriculture purposes and constructing houses or small-scale business establishments, says K Suresh Kumar, former chief of Munnar Mission initiated by the V S Achuthanandan Government in 2007.
“Any land used for other purposes is illegal and hence we cannot regularise them. Besides, Munnar was never a township and never can be one. The only way to protect Munnar is to demolish all the illegal constructions here, which needs strong political will,” Suresh says.
Total demolition is deemed impractical in a settlement with over 3,500 buildings, hundreds of residential houses, and nearly 400 hotels and resorts.
A top Revenue officer says there are three options before the government: One, amend the rules and regularise the existing constructions, and then take a decision on whether further construction shall be allowed or not.
Two, take over entire illegal structures and either lease them out or regularise them after charging a substantial amount as fine.
And three, bring in special building rules in Munnar after taking into account its ecologically fragile status to curb the construction of highrises.
Meanwhile, it is learnt the LDF top brass has reportedly reached a consensus to exempt the conditions for ‘patta’ lands which were assigned till a particular period, as part of its bid to resolve all land-related issues in Munnar.
“Those who got pattayams 20 years ago are likely to get exemption,” say insiders.