Kerala: Backwaters

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Challenges for the backwater tourism sector


Sam Paul A, Oct 20, 2019: The Hindu

A large number of them ply without the mandatory licence.

The land of backwaters and snakeboats is all geared up for the peak tourist season.

The houseboat cruise, one of the mainstays of the tourism sector in the State, was brought to its knees following last year’s deluge. In the following months, the backwater tourism sector showed great resilience to get back on track. Although floods returned to haunt Kuttanad this year too, albeit to a lesser extent, the sector remained largely unscathed.

According to officials and industry people, the high number of bookings and queries point to a good tourist season. “The season has started with the Nehru Trophy, the first race of the Champions Boat League (CBL) in August. The CBL is helping reinvigorate the backwater tourism especially in Alappuzha. Three CBL races are scheduled in different parts of the district in the coming weeks. The Dutch royal couple’s visit to Alappuzha and houseboat ride on Friday sent a message that things are normal here. We are receiving a lot of enquiries from foreign tourists. All arrangements have been made for the inflow of tourists,” said M. Malin, secretary, District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC).

Sewage dumping

Even though there is great optimism in the sector, a few things need urgent attention.

A sewage treatment plant operated by the DTPC for houseboats registered in Alappuzha was shut recently after the Kerala State Pollution Control Board found fault with the plant’s functioning. This, in effect has left houseboat operators, who are yet to fit biotanks, with no choice but to dump the waste into Vembanad Lake. As per rules, every houseboat should be fitted with a biotank for collecting sewage, but a lot of operators are yet to comply with the rule.

“We have decided to upgrade the sewage treatment plant to one that treats septage. A tender will be invited after the Aroor byelection. The plant will be reopened without delay,” Mr. Malin said.

Need for restrictions

There is also a growing demand to restrict operations of houseboats registered in other districts and boats sans registration and mandatory certificates in the waters of Alappuzha.

No licence to ply

According to officials, there are around 1,500 houseboats in Alappuzha, far beyond the recreational carrying capacity of the lake. A large number of them ply without the mandatory licence.

“We have been demanding the government to act against boats registered in other districts operating in Alappuzha, but to no avail. The authorities should act tough,” said, Kevin Rozario, general secretary, All Kerala Houseboat Owners and Operators Samithi.

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