Goa's government has been criticized for implementing policies for the tourism industry that do not benefit locals. (Photo by AFP)
Church and social activists in Goa are opposing government plans to promote tourism that they say will adversely affect the fragile environment of this western Indian coastal state.
The government needs to fix basic issues such as providing good toilets and installing an effective waste management system instead of "going overboard in promoting high-end helicopter joy rides to tourists," said Father Savio Fernandes from the Goa Archdiocesan Center for Social Justice and Peace.
State government's Tourism Development Corporation has joined with a New Delhi based helicopter service provider to operate a service between state capital Panaji and the Aguada helipad, which is located on a plateau across Mandovi River.
The helicopter service was scheduled to start its 15-minute joyrides on Feb. 2 but postponed after protests at their helipad site.
"The wildlife that frequents the Aguada helipad area, the flora and fauna will surely be disturbed. There are many unanswered questions," said Agnelo Fernandes, an opposition politician.
Father Dominic D'Souza, assistant parish priest of St. Alex Church said the helicopter flights would also create noise pollution for villagers.
Goa's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party-run government has long faced criticism from civil rights leaders and church people who say its policies on tourism and business do not benefit locals and ignores their culture.
On Jan. 15, a state law preserving trees was amended to allow for coconut palms to be cut down. Many locals see the palms as a unique part of the area's identity.
In 2014, the government enacted the Goa Investment Promotion Act which allowed the government to use agricultural land for industrial purposes.
Claude Alvares, Director of Goa Foundation, told media that these changes help businesses purchase land which they can clear of coconut trees without seeking permission.
Goa, a former Portuguese colony, is known as a Christian stronghold, with 25 percent of its 1.4 million people Christians, almost all of them Catholic.