An overcast day on Miramar Beach in Goa on July 23. Coastal villagers oppose a state plan that seeks to commercialize Goa’s beaches. (IANS photo)
Protests continue in the villages of Goa, a former Portuguese colony, against a state coastal regulation plan that they say is aimed at commercializing the 160-kilometer coastline of this western Indian state.
The predominantly Catholic villagers on the Goan coast forced the state government to withdraw the plan on July 28 and promise to redraft it.
The state government is led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also runs the federal government.
Even after withdrawing the proposal, state environmental minister Nilesh Cabral has continued to campaign for it, despite further protests; he had to face angry and slogan-shouting crowds in the past week as he sought to discuss the plan with them.
Cabral maintained that although the plan was only a draft proposal it was “my job to educate the public.”
The plan aims to identify areas in different coastal zones and therefore graded by different regulations, in which construction or any development activity should be allowed or banned.
Environmentalists, however, point out the government of Goa is under pressure because the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has threatened to fine it 100 million rupees ($1.4 million) if it fails to draft an acceptable plan by the end of August. The state has already been granted several extensions.
Critics claim that the plan was made without considering “ground realities” and has been drawn up to tacitly support realtors and the hospitality industry, so they can redevelop prime coastal real estate.
Fears have also been expressed about plans to convert part of coastline into coal hubs, so the fossil fuel can be transferred there from India’s southwestern mines.
Father Visitacao Monteiro, author of the book “Goan Village Communities,” said the plan ignored environmental studies that showed sea levels were already rising.
“Beach shacks have been flooded, even washed away, in recent years due to the rise in sea levels but the government plan has taken no account of this,” the priest said.
Besides, he wondered: “How can the government prepare a plan and impose it on the people, particularly when most land in the state consists of collective landholdings? The plan is being hastened to suit business interests.”
Protesters say the plan has ignored environmental sensitivities, including a bird sanctuary, otters’ habitation, shellfish breeding grounds, spawning site embankments, over 700 sluice gates, angling sites, salt pans, estuaries, and heritage sites.
Joaquim Gracias, a village leader and Catholic, said officials of the coastal regulation zone authority had invited them to participate in the redrafting of the plan and voice their objections.
“We rejected the suggestion because the basic framework of the plan was faulty,” Gracias told ucanews.com. “It is not possible for such an overhaul. Besides, the government could easily overrule our objections.”
He said if the plan were approved without serious changes villagers would have to seek permission to even repair their houses because they now stand in a zone where construction is banned.
On the other hand, the government would be able to approve the transportation of coal and construction materials for the benefit of corporates, Gracias added.
With its sandy beaches, Goa is the best-known international tourist spot in India and another campaigner, Ranjan Solomon, told ucanews.com that corporate India had long eyed its coastline as a source of profit through tourism.
“However, the coastal dwellers — the fisherfolk, toddy tappers and small agricultural land holders — would be ejected to make way for luxury hotels and resorts,” Solomon said.
“To these people the coast would become an eyesore for high-end tourists, who want unfettered access to the beach.”