Tuesday 25 September 2018

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Economy | Tourism

Five star lobby behind banning beach shacks ?

 

Tourism in Goa may be severely hit at the beginning of the season as the state government has banned shacks along the beachline, following mass protests by the coastal population.

The All Goa Shack Owners' Association (AGSOA) has threatened to block all the roads leading to the five star hotels if shacks are not permitted by the month end. Morchas, dharnas and public meetings have already begun, mobilising public opinion.


Tourists, especially the foreigners, enjoy a swim in the sea, a sunbathe on the beach and then a delicious Goan food along with a drink in the shack, which is raised with bamboo poles covered with dried and woven coconut palm leaves.

While applications were invited for the shacks in August, the state tourism department by mid-September decided not to issue licences for shacks, citing out a Supreme Court judgement regarding construction in the area of 200 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL).

The AGSOA alleges that the decision is taken in connivance with the five star lobby, by deliberately misinterpreting the five-month old SC judgement, issued on April 18. "We sympathise with the shack owners. But we are bound by the SC decision", claims Deputy Chief Minister Dr Wilfred de Souza, also holding the tourism portfolio.

"The judgement prohibits any construction, whether permanent or temporary, within 200 mts of the HTL in some zone and within 500 mts in other zones of the coastal area. As such, no stalls can be permitted on the beaches. Any violation of the court orders may result in prosecution and contempt of court proceedings against the offenders", stated Tourism Director U D Kamat.

It appears that the coastal settlement, dependent on tourism, has been taken for a ride by the bureaucracy, who is now shifting the blame for interpreting the judgement. The tourism department says it abided by the law department's opinion, which ultimately blames the town and country planning department for describing shacks a construction coming up in the no-development zone.

The SC judgement, dated April 18, is relating to environmental protection in the coastal areas of the country. It has prohibited any sort of construction within the HTL zone, as per the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification issued by Government of India on February 19, 1991. The area within 200 mts from the HTL is considered a no-development zone.

"But shacks fall neither under the category of development nor under construction", opines Dr Claude Alvares, a noted environmentalist, whose Goa Foundation (GF) has been consistently fighting court battles against structures constructed by five star hotels within the notified zone area.

.According to Dr Alvares, the judgement merely upholds the validity of the 1991 notification and asks state governments to implement it firmly. It's not concerned with shacks, but with those human activities which damage the coastal ecology. The GF was also one of the co-petitioner to the main petition filed by Delhi-based Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action, in response of which the order was delivered.

Instead of accepting the co-petitioner's contention, the Dy CM however has told the AGSOA to get the shacks exempted from its perview by approaching the SC. But the shack owners are in a mood to fight a street battle, with active support from the locals NGOs and political parties. "The SC judgement is being used by the vested interests to deny opportunity to the coastal people to participate in the tourism industry and gain their livelihood", alleges Mathew Fernandes, joint convenor of AGSOA. They have now pointed out at several illegal constructions by the five star hotels within the HTL, on which the government has not acted.

The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), whose officials were down in Goa to hold its 45th annual convention, have also expressed deep concern over the issue. Ashok Bahwa, Director General of Tourism, Government of India, has also instructed the state tourism department to sort out the issue amicably during his recent Goa visit.

The Jagrut Goenkaranchi Fouz (JGF), fighting against ill-effects of tourism, on the other hand has started an unique campaign. It has begun a signature drive among the foreign tourists demanding shacks and the memorandum would be sent to the state chief minister as well as to their respective countries, stated JGF leader Roland Martins.

According to AGSOA general secretary John Lobo, around 5000 people are directly dependent on shacks while another 10,000 are indirectly involved in it, including the shack-owners, locals employed as waiters, the tourist guides, motorcycle and car taxi owners, toddy tappers and even the locals providing paying guest accommodation to the tourists along the beachline.

The fate of half of the coastal population, especially in the talukas of Salcete and Bardez, is presently sealed as the state authorities are still adamant in resolving the issue.






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