Five-star exploitation

Published: Sunday 15 March 1998

Five-star exploitation

About 150 families in village Velaghat in district Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, have been issued eviction notices to vacate their homes for a five-star hotel to be constructed by the Taj Group.

Close to the virgin beaches of Velaghat is the lush green Aravali valley and the Yeshwantgarh fort. The adjoining land of more than 56 hectares (ha) has already been acquired by the state-owned Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) for "tourism development purposes". The present area inhabited by fisherfolk is rich in vegetation and is spread over 11.34 ha. It is the main access to the beach.

The Taj Group plans to build a five-star hotel and a beach resort with water sports and swimming pool at this site. Although the acquired area of 56.7 ha in the adjacent plot is more than enough for their grand plans, the 11.34-ha area that comprises the village is also being acquired because it would be considered an eyesore for the tourists that are expected to flock the beach.

The residents of Velaghat got together and formed an organisation called the Velaghat Bachao Samiti. They filed a petition in the local court challenging the eviction notice that was dismissed in 1991. Following public pressure, the issue was taken up in the Maharashtra legislative assembly on October 9, 1994. The Moreshwar Termude committee was formed to investigate the issue. The committee was against eviction.

But it has been a vexed issue. The local media has supported the cause of the people. On June 1997, police lathicharged people who had gathered to protest the construction of the hotel. Moreover, the Coastal Regulation Zone Act (CRZ Act) forbids the construction of any structures within 500 metres of the coastline. However, all structures constructed before 1991 are authorised. Construction of cottages for tourists will be a clear violation of the CRZ Act.

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