Cries grow louder to stop the rape of Goa’s silver sands
CRZ notifications of 1991 and 2011 were meant to protect livelihoods, promote economic activities and protect coastal ecology, but their lop-sided enforcement is raising a demand from activists and others for hard decisions to halt unplanned exploitation of beaches.
Goa’s 105-km long coastline is also dotted with cliffs and only about 70km of it has sandy beaches, but, large stretches of the eco-fragile zone (0 to 200m from the high tide line) and beyond have been transformed into a concrete maze to cope with the demands of mass tourism. The beach topography has been altered and the ecology severely damaged, sources said.
The efforts of the judiciary to activate the state machinery in identifying and initiating action against CRZ violations has produced only partial results, as chaos and concrete structures continue to spread in the coastal belt. Successive governments have shown lack of political will to clear hundreds of illegal structures.
The pressures of mass tourism and economic demands on this sector makes it difficult to reverse the trend of irreversible destruction of natural assets for short term gains. But opening up pristine beach fronts to more domestic and international tourists is only leading to blatant violations. The sand dunes are levelled first for construction of hotels and resorts, bore wells are dug, sewage and waste is released in the ground for short term gains, sources said.
“A hard decision is needed here and now – either opt for short term gains, or suffer the long term irreversible damage,” says Antonio Mascarenhas, an expert member of Goa coastal zone management authority.
Agrees Sujeet Dongre, co-ordinator centre for environment education (CEE), a NGO, “If the same kind of coastal destruction continues, the coastal ecology which is very fragile will be jeopardized,” he said.
A few beaches including Palolem, Patnem-Colomba and Agonda in Canacona, Colva in Salcete, Calangute-Baga and Anjuna in Bardez have been devastated by tourism activities with the no-development zone (NDZ) invaded almost totally by illegal structures. All these crowded beaches lack proper access to the sea front. A large number of shacks, huts, wooden houses meant to be temporary had become permanent long ago. Most structures in NDZ have kitchens, toilets, bathrooms and sewage is released directly in the sandy soil. In some places, untreated sewage is piped directly into the sea.
A few more beaches, Polem, Canaguinim, Nerul, Anjuna, Keri and some other stretches have been ravaged by erosion. Activists are disappointed that the government is legitimizing the entry of more people in CRZ rather than protect the interests of fishermen.
“If the government does not take some hard decisions and demarcate and preserve for all time to come the untouched areas, especially to show what a beach is like, everything will disappear before our eyes,” says Claude Alvares of Goa Foundation.
Goa coastal zone management authority (GCZMA), the statutory body monitoring violations of CRZ on the coast is seen as a toothless organization by some activists. But officials insist that it is tied down with strict procedures to initiate action against violators.
“There are stringent procedures, which take time and cause delay, in enforcing the law. The notices have to be issued, parties have to be heard, and if they ask for more time, or approach appellate courts, the delay is inevitable,” GCZMA member secretary Srinet Kotwale said.
He asserted that all illegal structures, which have cropped up during his tenure have been dealt with, in case the matters are not pending before the courts of law. But he conceded that many structures have become permanent under the guise of temporary ones.
Tourism industry stakeholders feel a blanket law for the country’s entire peninsular coast may also have some problems. “At times, it leads to blanket flouting of the law made without proper assessment. But it is the need of the hour to carry out proper identification of eco-sensitive areas without overeacting for sustainable growth before we lose these assets,” Ralph D’Souza, spokesman of travel and tourism association of Goa (TTAG), said.
Too much development and concretization in coastal areas can contribute to faster beach erosion, as the speed and force of winds and waves is enhanced by heating of the land, says Alvarinho Luis, a scientist at the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR).
“Concrete buildings, such as hotels, bungalows and tarred surface of roads and parking areas absorb heat faster and create heat islands,” Luis explained.
The heating in the coastal belt triggers a low pressure area, creating a contrast in atmospheric pressure on land and the adjacent sea region. “This gradient (over a large area) between sea and land enhances the winds toward the land and increases the wave height via momentum transfer (tangential push) to the water,” he said.
Goa has a few tasks to be performed as per provisions of CRZ 2011. Goa has a special status in it and the state has to formulate a management plan for the four turtle nesting sites of Agonda, Galgibaga, Morjim and Mandrem.
“It is too late that the process has not been initiated, so I feel that to protect these sites which are ecologically very rich, we have to have this inclusive management plan,” Dongre said.
Goa has to also prepare an integrated coastal zone management plan for stakeholders including fishing communities. “We should work towards getting this out in consultation with local communities,” Dongre added.
Encroachments and illegal activities near heritage structures along the coast, like Chapora fort should not be allowed in NDZ. “Reis Magos fort has been restored and protected. Why are other monuments not similarly protected?” Alvares asked.
Activists are sore about the delay in redressing of complaints by authorities, especially panchayats. “A complaint regarding destruction of sand dunes is not attended for days,” Judith Almeida, an activist, alleged.
Poor implementation of CRZ 2011 notification has disappointed environmentalists and others, but a few swear by it. “CRZ notification 2011 is the only bible that can save the Indian coasts from degradation,” says Mascarenhas.
GCZMA officials are aware about setting a shorter time frame for clearing illegal structures. “We have already urged ministry of environment and forests to amend the notification, and even make it an act, to evolve a better complaints redressal mechanism,” Kotwale said.
Meeting the requirements of mass tourism and human greed to exploit natural assets for short-term gains can only be stopped by hard decisions finds out Paul Fernandes in this concluding part of the series