Digging for toilet block triggers major collapse at Varkala cliff

The incident happened around a month back and local residents and environmental activists stalled the activities.
The portion of the cliff illegally excavated for the construction of the toilet block near Bali Mandapam near Papanasam Beach in Varkala | B P Deepu
The portion of the cliff illegally excavated for the construction of the toilet block near Bali Mandapam near Papanasam Beach in Varkala | B P Deepu

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The iconic Varkala cliff, a protected geological site, suffered a significant collapse near Bali Mandapam at Papanasam Beach on Tuesday morning. According to local residents and environmental activists, the collapse was triggered by the construction of a toilet block by the tourism department close to the Bali Mandapam near Papanasam Beach.

The contractor roped in by the tourism department for the construction of the toilet block illegally used excavators to destroy the cliff for levelling the area surrounding the toilet block for laying inter-locks.

The incident happened around a month back and local residents and environmental activists stalled the activities. According to local residents, the government authorities are also blatantly violating norms and carrying out construction in restricted areas violating Kerala Municipal Building Rules Act and Coastal Zone Regulation norms.

Interestingly, the government agencies that should be complying with the rules and regulations are violating the norms and setting a wrong example for private parties. There are over 180 illegal constructions on the cliff.

“They destroyed the cliff and used it for surface levelling. Besides this, they dumped the construction waste and tried to landfill the protected wetland and paddy field close to the sea for constructing a children’s park. We intervened and sought legal help to stall the landfilling. But a significant portion of the cliff was excavated and used for levelling the land of the toilet block,” said Unnikrishnan Nair, a local resident and social worker.

He said that the destruction of the cliff might have impacted the stability of the cliff which has started to collapse.

The heavy rain that has been lashing the district in the past few weeks has led to the collapse of the cliff in many areas posing a threat to the visitors. Sanjeev S J of Environment Protection and Research Council (EPRC), who filed a case against the project alleging corruption and misappropriation of public funds with the vigilance department, alleged that the construction of the toilet block is in clear violation of the CRZ and KMBR norms.

The toilet block project funded by the tourism department through the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) was executed by KITCO.

A significant portion of the cliff that collapsed near the Bali Mandapam on Tuesday morning | B P Deepu
A significant portion of the cliff that collapsed near the Bali Mandapam on Tuesday morning | B P Deepu

“The destination requires better facilities and lack of working toilets is a major issue at the destination. But they can do it without violating rules and destroying a protected geological formation. There is huge corruption in the project and the Varkala Municipal authorities have turned a blind eye towards these violations by a government agency. No permission was obtained from the Varkala Municipality. I was told that approval or permission is not required for projects implemented by government agencies and the tourism department,” Sanjeev alleged.

KCZMA nod based on certain conditions: MLA

“KCZMA approved the toilet project on certain conditions,” said Varkala MLA V Joy. He blamed tourism department and DTPC for the destruction of the cliff. “The project was not executed under the supervision of the tourism department or the municipality authorities. Otherwise, the destruction wouldn’t have happened. The contractor destroyed the cliff and used the debris to level the area and none of the authorities, including me, were not aware of it. We stopped further destruction of the cliff.” said MLA V Joy. He said that the toilet project has been dragging on for nearly three years. “The department was going to blacklist the contractor for delay in the execution of the work. Now they have completed the project and will be opened for the public soon,” he said. The MLA said that Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority granted permission for the construction on condition that the structure should not be demolished.

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