Shadow over calm waters
ABOUT 60 km from Udaipur lies a pristine lake in peril. Jaisamand is one of Asia's largest sweetwater lakes, measuring 54.4 sq km and dotted by 7 islands. It was founded in 1685 by Maharana Fateh Singh who dammed the Gomti river. Today, a squat hotel casts ominous shadows on its glistening waters.
Says Ganesh Purohit of Jagaran Vikas Manch, an NGO working on rural health in the area, "The hotel is a rude intrusion into the lives of the people in the 52 villages around the lake." Some vacated their old homesteads on Babumogara island and the land was bought by the owner of this hotel, Pratap Bhandari. Fishermen who used to take occasional picnickers for a ride around the lake are now barred from doing so.
The administration declared that only licensed boatmen would be permitted to ply. This left the coast clear for Bhandari's men, for they were the only ones with a 'licence'. Bhandari, however, claims that he is promoting eco-tourism: "Jaisamand has never been new to tourism. It has been a picnic spot and there is a game sanctuary close by. My hotel conforms to environmental norms. I have installed a sewage treatment plant and I intend using tents. This is the era of adventure tourism. Besides, there is high unemployment in the surrounding villages and tourism will provide people with jobs."
Bhandari holds he has not hurt the fisherfolk. Local villagers are not convinced. The Jaisamand Vikas Manch was founded 6 months ago to mobilise the local people. Says Kesu Lal of Junizeer village, "We will not allow hotels to be built here. If they are built, we will burn them down. Tourism means our way of life will be destroyed. Roads will be made and we will lose our fields. Prices of essential commodities will shoot up, alcoholism and lawlessness will increase." Adds Kabi Lal Damor, an activist, "We do not want compensation because community relations cannot be compensated."
Plans are also afloat to tap the water of the lake for the citizens of Udaipur. Says Kesu Lal, "Government officials say they will use this water only in case of a drought. But that is the time when we need the water ourselves." A canal is also being built on one side of the lake and villagers fear that their fields might be inundated. Says Purohit, "The lake belongs to the people of this area. The area is rich in biodiversity and people could be encouraged to cultivate medicinal plants. Perhaps the area could be developed as a centre for alternative medicine. The crucial question here is one of people's development versus tourism."