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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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