Christmas day brought tears to the eyes of many when news filtered through of the death by drowning of 22 people in what was to have been a joy ride at Pulicat Lake. The usual complaints have been made – lack of facilities, no safety, absence of life-jackets, etc. The Government has made predictable moves – announcement of solatium, rushing of ministers and top-ranking officials to the site and promised action. But will all this result in any change as far as ground reality? Can Pulicat become a tourist destination of international standards? Rather ironically, the disaster has come just weeks after the State Government announced a package to boost tourism in Tamil Nadu.

Pulicat is one of the oldest water-bodies in this region. Some put its age as being over a million years. Its historicity is more recent, beginning when the Dutch made it their base around 600 years ago. It has therefore ruins and archaeological finds in addition to natural beauty. It also happens to support a fragile eco-system with locals practising agriculture and fishing. There is a bird sanctuary in the Andhra Pradesh side of Pulicat and the lake supports aquatic vegetation of various kinds. Throw in a couple of old temples and churches and you have an ideal mix for tourism. And yet very little has been done to exploit it.

In 2008-9, the Union Ministry for Tourism sanctioned Rs 2.6 crores for the development of Pulicat. The State Government sanctioned Rs 70 lakhs for the same purpose which included the building of a children’s park, car-parking facilities and a restaurant. None of these came to fruition owing to bureaucratic delays. But tourism of a kind still flourishes in the area. While there are no eateries of any standard in the place, sea-food as cooked by the locals is a speciality. And so is boating in flat-bottomed craft. It is a common sight to see locals flagging cars even on the highway and asking Pulicat-bound tourists if they want to be taken for a boat-ride. But these are sans any safety gear, which has resulted in the present tragedy.

The focus has to now shift to what can be done with Pulicat. Interestingly, the old Danish settlement of Tranquebar can show the way. That was also a completely forgotten spot till the tsunami of 2004. Then a whole host of development measures, with foreign help, was put in place and now the town is well on its way to become a major tourist attraction. There is no reason why Pulicat cannot develop along the same lines.

But if the Government gets round to it, it would do well to keep the local requirements in mind. Going back to the earlier plan, a car-parking facility ought to probably be the last on the list. Good, clean dining facilities, public toilets and non-intrusive shopping facilities ought to top the list. Boating if introduced, ought to be of the non-motored variety to ensure minimum disturbance to the local habitat of birds and fishes. And above all, the local populace needs to be trained and given employment in these efforts. That way, the project will be adopted by them as one of their own and will be an assured success.

The ball is now clearly in the Government’s court. We need to see some action quite soon.

For further details on Pulicat see Karthik Bhatt’s blog –