Coronavirus outbreak: Blue waters, clear sea. But state's coast remains unclear

Updated: 19 April, 2020 08:56 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Several small and medium businesses along Maharashtra's coastline, which rely heavily on tourists, fear that their troubles will only begin once the lockdown ends

The Catholic community in Gorai has been distributing essential ration to the daily wage labourers and other needy locals, who were reliant on tourism for their bread and butter
The Catholic community in Gorai has been distributing essential ration to the daily wage labourers and other needy locals, who were reliant on tourism for their bread and butter

It was in January this year, that Piyush Wakade opened a small luxury resort on his property in Nagaon, Alibaug. The resort, which employed around five locals, couldn't have started at a more opportune moment. Since it was peak tourism season, Wakade managed to make around R10 lakh in the next two months, helping him repay a small part of the huge loan he had taken for this new business venture. Then, the lockdown was announced, and everything came to a grinding halt.

Wakade, like many others in the local tourism sector, is reeling under losses and staring at a bleak future. Even after the lockdown lifts next month, the fear of the pandemic might prevent people from stepping out, especially for leisure trips, feels Wakade, who run Eleven Petals Resort. And, with the off season set to begin in June, when monsoon starts, things are unlikely to get better. "I am already finding it difficult to pay the EMI. As of now, I am paying my staff half their salaries, because even they have families to look after. But I don't know whether I'll be able to manage this for the rest of the year," he says.

Stalls run by women self-help groups in Alibaug, have been shut since the last week of March
Stalls run by women self-help groups in Alibaug, have been shut since the last week of March

Maharashtra, which boasts of a 750 km-long coastline, is a major tourism hub. And, for people living along this coastal stretch, in areas like Alibaug, Dapoli, Ganpatipule, Malvan, Manori, Gorai and Palghar, tourism is second only to fishing. It's not only local resorts and tourist hotspots that will be affected; several women self-help groups earn an income by selling local food, spices and pickles.

Prarthana Nagevekar, coordinator of self-help groups in Alibaug, and an employee with the Raigad District Central Co-Operative Bank Ltd. said, "People living in our coastal belt are highly dependent on the tourism industry for their bread and butter. With the current situation, things are looking very grim, as there is no revenue being generated. The situation is unlikely to improve even after the lockdown ends, as people will avoid visiting tourist places as a precautionary measure."

Rahul Patil, tour operator
Vaibhav Dabholkar, tour operator

She said that Alibaug alone, has a total of 400-500 self-help groups, and close to 1,500 families are directly dependent on this. "These self-help groups provide catering services and also sell local food items like spices, pickles, white onions and papad. Due to the lockdown, these women don't have any means to earn money."

Vaibhav Dabholkar, a tour operator and businessmen from Kudal, which is around 530 km from Mumbai, said, "We had many tour bookings as this season is preferred by tourists for sightseeing in the Kudal and Malvan belt. But due to lockdown, we had to cancel all the bookings and refund the money. We suffered huge losses."

After taking a bank loan last year, has had to slash the salaries of his staff by half, because there has been no business since the lockdown
After taking a bank loan last year, has had to slash the salaries of his staff by half, because there has been no business since the lockdown

A resort owner from Kudal, Rahul Patil, said, "The ongoing period is an important one for the people in the hotel and tourism business. We see high footfalls during this time. But there has been a lull since March."

Rahul Patil, a resort owner in Kudal
Rahul Patil, a resort owner in Kudal

Malvan in the Sindhudurg district, is another tourist hotspot, during the winter and summer seasons. The region boasts of a beautiful coastline, where scuba diving and snorkelling is very popular. It is also home to ancient temples and forts, and is known for its coastal delicacies. Many small and medium-sized businesses here, are dependent on tourism.

Piyush Wakade, who opened a luxury resort on his property in Nagaon, Alibaug
Piyush Wakade, who opened a luxury resort on his property in Nagaon, Alibaug

Closer home, in Gorai and Manori, the situation is just as bad. These villages, which boast of beautiful beaches, are mostly frequented by Mumbaikars over long weekends, due to their proximity to Mumbai. When mid-day visited Gorai, except for a few shops, the place
was deserted.

A resort owner in Gorai, on condition of anonymously said, "On weekends, we used to get huge business and the rooms would be completely booked. But, due to the current lockdown everything is shut. We are worst hit, but nothing much can be done, because the government has taken the decision in the larger interest of the people."

Members from the Catholic community, who have a council in Gorai village, have now formed groups to identify people who are affected due to the crisis, and have pooled in money to provide them essential ration. Some residents said the local police is also helping by distributing food to around 800 people.

"Several disadvantaged people and daily wage workers are running out of food, so we are distributing food to them on a daily basis," said Rossi D'Souza, a resident of Gorai village.

500
Approx no. of women self-help groups in Alibaug

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First Published: 19 April, 2020 07:07 IST

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