Tourism in a shambles

Beautiful Patenga beach blighted by jungle of makeshift stalls, horde of aggressive vendors
Although Patenga beach has been attracting thousands of tourists everyday for decades, it does not yet have the suitable infrastructure to help flourish tourism.
The beautiful beach, located at the confluence of Karnaphuli River, is only 14 kilometres from the port city Chittagong.
Absence of proper tourist amenities has encouraged indiscriminate establishment of food and souvenir shops that tend to squeeze money out of tourists rather than providing services.
The owners of the illegally built shops also formed an association to protect their interest.
Visitors sometimes are harassed by the vendors on the beach.
Mizanur Rahman, a tourist from Dhaka, said, “I came from Dhaka with my family to see Patenga beach. But I find that the natural beauty of the beach has been destroyed
by the settlements.”
The makeshift eateries primarily focus on profit making, as there is no standard restaurant around, he said.
“We took four plates of noodles and a cold drink. For that they charged us 1,200 taka.”
“When we asked them about the high price, they started bullying and took the money almost forcefully,” he said adding, “I never had such an experience at any tourist
spot before.”
Several other tourists echoed Mizan.
Sabbir Ahmed, another tourist from Chittagong, said visitors get very little open space as the makeshift shops occupy almost all the beach area leaving no room for the
tourists to stroll around.
“You can see trash littered all over the beach. I have not found any dustbin in the whole beach area,” said another tourist Abul Kalam.
According to Mohammad Shahabuddin, president of Patenga Sea Beach Shop Owners’ Co-operative Association, around 30,000 tourists visit the beach daily.
On weekends the number reaches to one lakh. On special occasions like Eid, Puja, Valentines Day, and Independence Day the number rises to about 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh, he
said.
Some 331 shops are doing business in the beach area providing livelihood for around 15,000 people excluding the floating hawkers, he added.
Shahabuddin said, “We don’t want to do business illegally. If the authority leased or rented out the space to us then it would be better for us.”
“But the authority always remained silent on the issue,” he added.
Shahabuddin defended the high price of food at the Patenga eateries saying that the price of a plate of noodles is Tk 250 which is the same at Chinese restaurants in
the city.
None of the eateries, however, match the standard of a Chinese restaurant.
Shahabuddin claimed that the beach is now safe for visitors as police regularly patrol the area to prevent illegal activities.
When asked why police do not evict their illegal businesses from the beach area, he said during the immediate past caretaker government they had been evicted, but
returned after the election, and now nobody bothers them because their presence keep the place free of other criminal activities.
Several hawkers and local residents, on condition of anonymity, said shop owners together bribe police one lakh taka per month for not evicting them.
But Shahabuddin denied the allegation outright.
Officer-in-charge (OC) of Patenga Police Station Prodip Kumar Das also denied taking money from the shop owners.
“As we are not allowing prostitution and other anti-social activities on the beach, some people are bringing false allegations against us.” Prodip said.
When asked why they are not evicting the illegal shops from the beach, he said, “The embankment is owned by the Water Development Board. They are not asking us to
evict the shops, that’s why we can’t evict them from the area.”
“If you let someone occupy your own area then police can do nothing about that,” he added.
He said, “We are maintaining law and order in the beach area and there is no anti-social activity now.”
Visitors, local residents, and shop owners also said the beach which used to be a spot for prostitution before, is now completely free of that menace.
Sources at Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC) said they have taken a plan to build a motel on five acres of land in the beach area.
“A team from the national tourism body visited the area to select a site for the motel in early February this year,” said Rafiqul Islam, unit manager of BPC in
Chittagong.
“A committee will be formed to implement the project soon.”
He, however, could not confirm the timeframe for the beginning of the construction work.
Investments from the private sector could also boost tourism on the beach, said an official of Chittagong City Corporation (CCC).
Sources at private sector hotels and tourism businesses said a lack of infrastructure, commercial facilities, security, and government support, and possibilities of
natural disasters are main reasons why the beach area is not attracting investment from the sector.
“Developed infrastructure, adequate supply of electricity, and availability of banking services are needed to establish hotels on the beach,” said Shahin Mohammad
Nowshad, senior manager for sales and marketing of Hotel Agrabad.
Possibility of disasters like cyclone is always a problem for hotels as well, he said.
“If the embankment of the area is made strong enough then cyclones will not be a threat,” he added.
Unlike Cox’s Bazar beach, Patenga has not been developed to an international standard, which is very important for attracting private investment that will build other
facilities like hotels, motels and entertainment venues, Shahin said.
“If the government provided support to the private sector, the place would not remain undeveloped for such a long time,” he said.
Meanwhile, CCC has taken a project of Tk 93 crore for infrastructure development in the beach area.
Under the project, a planetarium, a bay aquarium, a sea-world, a five-star hotel, a banquet hall, and 12 to 14 motels will be built, said Rafiqul Islam Manik,
executive engineer at CCC and the director of the project.
The 850 feet wide and 2,400 feet long project will be implemented on the plain land located between the beach road and the embankment, he said.
Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) owns about 150 acres of land in the area, about 40 acres of which will be taken primarily for the project, said Rafiqul.
A proposal for the project was submitted to the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives in 2010, he said.
The LGRD ministry forwarded the proposal to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism for a no objection certificate (NOC) the same year, he added.
But the tourism ministry has not given the approval for the project yet.
Sources at the tourism ministry said the project is likely to get government approval. But they could not confirm when the approval will come.
Md Zafar Alam, director of the Department of Environment (DoE), said CCC must take an approval from the department to implement the project in the area.
“If they apply, we will assess the environmental impact by appointing a consultant.”
“I believe, planned infrastructural development will not adversely affect the environment in the area,” he said.
The illegal shops on the embankment are actually badly affecting the environment, he added.

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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