May 21, 2008
Mandarmoni (East Medinipur),
184 km off Kolkata
It’s the last lap of our three-and-a-half hour drive from Kolkata to the country’s largest motorable beach, Mandarmoni, on the autobahnesque Kolkata-Mumbai National Highway. The road disappears and is replaced by a 14-km stretch that is not motorable by any stretch of imagination. After a little over half-an-hour ride through this appalling road, we are greeted by an amazingly clean, sprawling beach and the roar of the sea.Mandarmoni is one of the two coastal belts in West Bengal’s Medinipur district; the other being the celebrated Digha beach. While Digha has been a traditional sea beach destination for tourists, Mandarmoni is relatively unknown but is still giving the former a run for its money. This newly-found tourism destination, though, is in troubled waters. The reason? The West Bengal Pollution Control Board has issued closure notices (and demolition threats) to as many as eight hotels on the Mandarmoni beach. The notices have been served on the grounds that these hotels are flouting the inter-tidal zone regulations (pertaining to the distance of hotels from the beach) and have not obtained necessary permission from the Coastal Regulation Zone Authority (CRZ). We meet Sandipan Biswas, 49, Managing Director, Sana Beach Resort, and the man instrumental in turning this unknown and virgin seashore into one of the hottest beach locations in just over twoand-a-half years. Says Biswas:
“I landed up at this place on a two-wheeler in January 2005, thanks to my passion for visiting new places. The first thought that came to my mind was that this place would one day become one of the best beach locations in the country. I bought a little over 7 acres of land for Rs 50,000 per acre.” Incidentally, the land price has now soared to Rs 20-25 lakh per acre.
That sudden flash of inspiration has changed the fate of Mandarmoni over the last three years, because Biswas’ endeavour was followed immediately by others—Rose Valley Resort, Tarangamala Resort, Samudra Sakshi Resort, Samudra Vilas Resort and Debraj Hotel. On offer at Mandarmoni are 300 rooms (the place currently has 25 hotelcum-resorts and eight more are lined up), which is nothing compared to Digha, which has more than 550 hotels. But this beach is already eating into and luring away tourists from Digha, sending ripples along the Bay of Bengal.
These hotel plans have been sanctioned by Kalindi Gram Panchayat #8 that has its own justification for doing so. Says Ashok Maity, former Panchayat Pradhan: “As per the original Mouza map of Mandarmoni available with the Panchayat office, there is sufficient gap between the boundary walls of these hotels and the sea.” There are nearly 220 metres of rayati (privately-owned) and 305 metres of khas (government-owned) land in front of the boundary walls (totalling 525 metres) of these hotels, including sandy area. And as per CRZA guidelines, such permanent constructions are supposed to keep a distance of 500 metres from the sea, at the max. So, they didn’t do anything wrong by sanctioning these plans under certain environment protection guidelines.The state tourism department has largely been a silent and passive onlooker to this legal battle between Kalindi Sea Coast Hoteliers’ Association and WBPCB, although it highlights Mandarmoni beach as the country’s best and longest motorable beach in its promotional materials.
The State Directorate of Tourism has also included the Mandarmoni-Purushottompur Beach in its Beach Circuit Tourism, where tourists can visit nearby beaches at Digha, Shankarpur, Udaypur and Mandarmoni in one go. However, the state tourism department hardly has any presence on the beach. This place not only lacks road infrastructure, it doesn’t even have electricity. All the hotels are run on 24-hour diesel generator sets.As we move along the beach, we come across the socio-economic twists in the story. Says Nitai Pradhan, who takes tourists around on his motor-driven tri-cycle and earns Rs 200 per trip per group of four-five: “These hotels are bringing in tourists, giving us a livelihood.
What would we do without them?” Biswas, who is also the President of the Kalindi Sea Coast Hoteliers’ Association, has already taken up the issue with all concerned authorities, including state Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.“What we need is infrastructure support... this place has the potential to come up as a real money spinner not only for private hoteliers, but also for the state as well. Around 1,000 acres of government land is still lying idle in the area, which can fetch nearly Rs 200 crore at current market price, if the state decides to sell out to private hospitality players. This will bring a significant sum to the state coffers,” adds Biswas.
By afternoon as we set out on our return journey, the results of the recently-concluded Panchayat polls start coming in, indicating a near rout for the ruling party from the local governing bodies in the area, sending out perhaps a signal of discontent to the powers that be.