Restoration of Chinese nets yet to gather steam

Restoration of Chinese nets yet to gather steam
Kochi backwaters are lined with grand Chinese fishing nets. This sight has been attracting tourists from all parts of the world.

Fort Kochi: A Kochi without the iconic Chinese nets dotting its shores is unimaginable. Skim through any travel brochure on Kerala and the glossy pictures portraying the charm of Queen of Arabian Sea will have silhouettes of Chinese nets against the backdrop of setting sun. So, the importance of preserving these centuries-old Chinese nets need not be overemphasized.

But a project to spruce up the historic fishing nets, which have been attracting foreign tourists to Kerala for long thereby foreign exchange, had been dragging on for the past 5 years. The Rs 1.5 crore project to give a facelift to these age-old nets by retaining their heritage value had been finalized 5 years ago but unfortunately, there is no progress. The Thambakam wood (Iron wood of Malabar), a rare timber, worth Rs 10 lakh, bought to renovate the Chinese nets, had been lying idle at the Vasco da Gama square for close to one year. And it had been 9 months since adequate teak wood of the right size had been marked at the Kothamangalam forests to rebuild these fishing nets but nothing had been done beyond that.

The first quantum of Rs 75 lakhs out of the total project outlay was disbursed to KITCO, the premier technical consultancy organization, 5 years ago. The project, which was started during the Congress-led UDF Government, did not make any progress even after the CPI (M)-led LDF Government came to power. The blueprint of the project was prepared to renovate 11 Chinese nets on the seafront here. The project was inaugurated by state Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran many months ago, and KITCO has the responsibility to execute the project that was prepared by the Tourism Department.

The second instalment of Rs 45 lakhs was given a year ago, and the Thambakam wood was purchased for Rs 10 lakh. The owners of Chinese nets are happy that requisite wood for renovation had been finally sourced, but they are equally concerned over the inordinate delay in starting the work as the iron pipes used to build the cantilever structure had become rusty and brittle.

Paucity of funds cited

The work got delayed mainly due to the bottlenecks in procuring teak wood of the right size and age to revamp the Chinese nets. Finally, requisite wood had been marked at the Mullarigode forests coming under Kothamangalam DFO. A team of Chinese net workers and KITCO officials marked 415 logs of wood valued at Rs 80 lakhs as per the seigniorage rate fixed by the state Forest Department. The market value of the marked wood is Rs 1.3 crore. Citing paucity of funds, KITCO requested the Forest Department to release Rs 95 lakhs, but additional funds were not allocated resulting in a delay in executing the project. Cutting of trees marked for wood is getting delayed as the entire amount should be transferred to the Forest Department before sourcing the wood. The Chinese net workers are a worried lot as they apprehend that the markings on trees might have faded due to the long delay.

Nod given for Rs 95 lakhs

The Tourism Department officials said that an additional Rs 95 lakhs had been sanctioned for the project following a request from KITCO, and the process to transfer the funds to KITCO is in the final stage. Meanwhile, it is learnt that KITCO had given a letter to the DFO to cut more than half of the marked trees with the available funds. The remaining wood will be sourced after KITCO gets additional funds from the Tourism Department.

Majority of Chinese nets in danger

Centuries-old 11 Chinese nets are present here and the majority of them are non-operational before of soil deposits. Currently, 6 Chinese nets are being used and out of these 2 nets are in danger of giving way due to rusty pipes. Kennedy, an owner of Chinese nets, said that close to Rs 25,000 had to be pumped to repair the pipes as the nets could not be used. As the iron pipes would be replaced with wood structures under the project, the money invested in repairing the pipes would only go down the drain, said the Chinese net owners.  The owners had to shell out lakhs of rupees to place the Chinese nets away from the shores to ward off the soil deposit menace, but the efforts went in vain due to fresh soil deposits.

Water metro jetty and Chinese nets

The Chinese net owners are concerned about the proposed water metro jetty as the nets may have to be shifted from the area. But the water metro officials had confirmed that the jetty had been designed not to disturb the Chinese nets. There are 4 Chinese nets, only 3 are being used, at the space opposite to the corporation zonal office here that had been earmarked for building the water metro jetty. It is learnt that the Chinese nets would not be shifted from here and they would only be repositioned to ensure that the nets are 20ft apart from each other.

Mix of Chinese nets and hotels

After the Chinese nets are renovated, restaurants will be opened on the platforms of these historic nets. The fish caught in these Chinese nets will be cooked and served to tourists and this facility is bound to be an instant hit among the travellers. The outlay to spruce up a Chinese net and open a food joint is around Rs 22 lakh. Teak wood, Thambakam wood, coconut timber and Anjili (Artocarpus Hirsutus) wood will be used to refurbish various parts of the Chinese nets. Earlier, there were 23 Chinese nets but now only 11 are in existence. The Chinese net is also known as society net, ‘karippu’ net, bank net, ‘Kochu’ net, ‘pangan’ net and American net.

K J Maxi MLA 

“The funds set aside for the renovation of Chinese nets were transferred to KITCO in two instalments. The unavailability of teak wood had been sorted out. The Minister launched the project a year ago but the work is dragging on due to the inefficiency of KITCO.”

Dominic Presentation (former MLA)

“The project was started in 2014 and Rs 75 lakh was given to KITCO. The ineptness of KITCO resulted in the project getting delayed. People’s representatives should take the initiative to expedite the project.”

Derson Antony (Coordinator of Cochin Chinese Net Owners Association)

“It has been 9 months since trees in the forest had been marked for wood. Re-marking should be done if the earlier markings could not be spotted. KITCO has received Rs 1.20 crore in 2 instalments for the execution of the project. KITCO delayed sourcing of teak wood citing lack of funds despite having Rs 1.20 crore with them.”