//Government should not allow Special Tourism Zones (STZ) in Kerala

Government should not allow Special Tourism Zones (STZ) in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram,  12/2/2007.

Forum Kerala, A collective of civil  society movements,  people's groups and individuals urged Kerala Government to withdraw  its move to introduce Special Tourism Zones within the state. The group  also asked Kerala Government to appoint a  commission, where representatives  of civil society organisations and  people's groups should be part,  to assess the environmental, social  and economic damages caused by the  tourism industry within the state  before initiating new projects, plans  and marketing strategies. The  forum also demanded that the tourism industry  should give  compensation to the affected people in the tourist destinations  for its damages. 
 
The Kerala Tourism  Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan recently announced  that the creation  of STZs would be considered if private parties  having large tracts of  land approach the State Government. He also  declared that government  would change the rules relating to  acquisition of land for tourism projects  in the State. 
 
According to The Ministry  of Tourism, Government of India, the STZs will be on the line of Special  Economic Zones (SEZ) and also offer  the same facilities and incentives  to the investors. The STZs are proposed to be located in the major tourist  destinations, cities as  well as along the coastline. 
 
The state government's  move to introduce Special Tourism Zones has to be opposed because it  will increase the pressure over natural and  other resources such as  land, water, forests and it will lead to environmental destruction,  revenue losses and lack of real economic  development of the state, breakdown  of governance systems especially of the Panchayats, with the creation  of enclaves and lack of equal  and non-exploitative employment opportunities  for local communities in STZs. Kerala Government should withdraw this  move especially in the context of the recent controversies on SEZs. 
 
Currently government  and tourism industry says that Kerala has an upper hand in tourism,  since it is now a much sought after destination. It is in the profiteering  interest of the tourism industry to set up projects in Kerala. The state  should not provide further incentives and subsidies to attract investments.  Instead, the state should cut down existing incentives and subsidies  and introduce new taxes for the people of Kerala to benefit from tourism. 
 
Kerala tourism has  a strong record of proving that planning, policies and regulations to  date have not effectively addressed major problems caused by tourism.  These include the unsustainable extraction of ground water in tourism  spots such as Kovalam, which is causing a serious lack of drinking water  for local communities. Problems also include the land speculation activities  related to tourism especially in the coastal and backwater areas, and  pollution of the backwaters  by the tourism industry. The tourism industry  has a significant role in spoiling the mangrove belt and the breading  areas of fishes in the Vembanad Lake. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)  violations by hotels and resorts are a serious concern in the state,  and so is the uncontrolled tourism development in Kovalam and Kumarakom,  which has lead to many environmental and social problems. Sustainable  waste management systems are lacking in the state. There are disturbing indications that prostitution  including the commercial sexual exploitation of children is happening  in tourist destinations in Kerala. 
 
Forum Kerala asked  Government to amend the Kerala Tourism (Conservation & Preservation  of Areas) Act 2005, passed by the  previous government, which effectively  strips Panchayats of their powers by constituting a committee dominated  by bureaucrats. 
 
The statement issued  by the forum also strongly criticised Kerala Tourism's move to use  "Responsible Tourism" for its marketing. The forum views it with  concern that in the recent workshop organised by Department of Tourism  discussing the responsibilities of various stakeholders in further development  of tourism within the state,issues such as the constitutional rights  of the Panchayat Raj Institutions, Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) violations  by hotels and 
resorts, backwater pollution by the houseboats and tourism  industry, child abuse and child labour in service industries in the  state and  various other social issues have been completely  ignored. "Who is responsible for these damages? – And for effectively  addressing these problems?" the Forum asked. 
 
Recent media reports  revealed that "success stories" of responsible tourism in Kerala  would be presented at the World Travel Mart,London. Foreign consultants  with dubious credentials have either been approached by the government  or have volunteered to showcase Kerala as an example of "Responsible  Tourism" while no serious steps have been taken to remedy the environmental  and social damages created by irresponsible tourism development in State  in the past four decades.

It has a come as a surprise to us that Mr.  Harold Goodwin is announcing through the media that cases of "Responsible  tourism" exist in the state!" Harold Goodwin, faculty at the  Britain-based International Centre for Responsible Tourism, reportedly  announced to  the press in Thiruvananthapuram that "Since the World  Travel Mart 2007 is being held (in London) in November, the biggest  beneficiary would be Kerala tourism  because there would be a separate session on responsible tourism and  a few success stories of Kerala in this aspect would be showcased"  (Source: Indo-Asian News Service, 3/2/07). 
 
How can he announce  the presentation of such case studies now? If he can, he should reveal  which are the case studies. The Forum asked Harold Goodwin that he should  make clear how governments' proposal for the STZ would match with  his theory of "Responsible Tourism"? The forum pointed out that  neither the Tourism Department nor industry lobbyists can use such ploys  to undercut the growing resistance to indiscriminate tourism projects  and irresponsible tourism practices that negatively affect the local  communities and their livelihoods in Kerala. The forum decided to continue  the campaign to democratise  tourism practices to ensure people's participation  in the decision making process and to seek compensation for the victims  of displacement, environmental destruction and loss of livelihood systems caused by tourism industry practices and policies in the state.