Sunday 23 September 2018

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Economy | Tourism

It's now Morjim villagers fighting anti-people tourism

 

Morjim - a picturesque village situated on the banks of Chapora river in North Goa - is still peaceful, unaffected by tourist influx. But Temb, a small locality of traditional fishermen situated on the bay at one end of Morjim, is burning with fury and protests.

It's nothing unusual if one digs into the history, the way "star tourism" entered the state since early '80s. Almost half of the land at Temb, a strategic area surrounded from all three sides by river Chapora and the Arabian sea, is bought by one "outsider" to build a three-star hotel.

The traditional fisherfolk community, comprising 99 per cent of the total population at Temb, is threatened with its community living coming to an end. They are now up in arms, not to get maximum benefits from the hotel but to stall the project itself.

M/s Excelsior Hotels, owned by P V Mani, a Calcutta-based businessman, has bought over 49,000 sq. mts of land from three land owners in the area. The property begins from the river bank and ends at the Arabian sea, with coconut and cassurina trees all over the beachline. While the road going to the beach divides a small chapel on the river side, the fishermen live on the other side of the road.

"We have only eight houses including the owner's vacant house and a chapel in the property. We are also ready to leave the space earmarked as per the tenancy act to the seven tenants staying in the property", claims Leao Dias, a local businessman who looks after Mr Mani's proposed hotel project here.

"No. Total 13 families are directly affected due to the project. But surprisingly, the remaining houses are not shown on the survey map. And what if the remaining area is also bought over by the hotel owner", ask the aggrieved villagers.

As found in any coastal village of fisherfolk, the beachline is also used here for anchoring their small fishing boats and the river bank for casual fishing. Building small boat sheds during monsoons to protect their canoes is also a common feature. But they are now "instructed" by the new owner to shift their boat sheds elsewhere, which can be only outside the property, far away from the beach.

The tiny beach is also famous for migratory birds found here from September to May - a major tourist attraction for foreigners. The sea turtles, found only at Temb in the whole of Goa, is protected by the forest department with utmost care. Being a peaceful place, beach shacks make a good business here with hordes of foreign tourists visiting this place, providing seasonal occupation to over 10 shack owners.

Living as the "friends of the sea", even the religious festivals of Catholics and Hindus residing in the area are part of the seashore activities. May it be the immersion of Ganesh, the procession during the feast of Catholics or the traditional dramas held during festivals, the beachline is being used by the villagers for all such social activities.

"These new owners are least bothered about our social life or traditional living. Why should we welcome anything in the name of development if it threatens our very existence", asks Olavo Fernandes, a shack owner. He is equally worried that his regular foreign customers would either be tapped by the giant hotelier or the tourists may stop coming as it would not be peaceful any more.

Enraged with the invasion, the villagers have not only put up a banner "stop displacement of Morjim villagers" on the road, but they even stormed the taluka town of Pernem and capital city of Panaji with dharnas and morchas. But no political party, the local sarpanch or the MLA - state minister Sangita Parab - have come for the rescue. They are now planning to meet union law minister Ramakant Khalap, the MP and the former MLA, to seek "justice".

Jagrut Goenkaranchi Fouz (JGF), the NGO fighting against ill-effects of tourism, is spearheading the agitation. "We don't want tourism at the cost of livelihood of Goans. The only way to seek justice is waging a militant struggle against the pro-star tourism government policies", says Roland Martins, the JGF leader.

But Leao Dias, who invited Mr Mani to Goa to set up the hotel project, dismisses all the allegations. "Why should we do something against the interest of the locals ? They don't realise that this project would bring development to their area. It will provide jobs to them, in the hotel as well as other activities connected with the hotel", he claims.

According to Mr Dias, except the misguided locals at Temb, the rest of the village is supporting the project. Not to let down the locals, he claims, they have been assured of protecting their houses as per the provisions of tenancy act. "I have even assured them of providing a new road passing through the locality and renovation of the chapel."

While Mr Dias denies, the locals believe that the existing road going to the beach would be blocked and the chapel will have to be shifted elsewhere. Dismissing the allegation of shifting the boat sheds, he says Mr Mani has even agreed to the request made by the panchayat to construct a fishing jetty at the river bank for the local fishermen.

As claimed by Dias, one Gerlad Fernandes, an ex-Army officer, is instigating the locals with misinformation as he had a quarrel with the previous owner and is interested in contesting panchayat elections. But the locals consider Capt. Gerald as their leader, the only well-educated person in the locality.

The whole issue came to light early this year when Mr Dias lodged a police complaint against Capt. Gerald for constructing an extension to his house. The latter claims that he was reconstructing the collapsed wall of his kitchen while the former shows the photographs to prove that he was extending the house with new construction.

This small incident sparked a clash between the hotel owners and the affected locals, resulting in both sides filing complaints and counter-complaints. The villagers now allege that the owners, with the help of the security guards, have begun threatening and attacking them. But the action is taken because they have been stealing coconuts and cutting trees in our property, claims Mr Dias.

Capt. Gerald even suspects hand of underworld criminals behind the project and demands thorough investigation by the intelligence agencies and income tax officials into the property and assets of the owner. "Why otherwise they are so secretive about the whole project", he asks.

"We have no secrets to hide. But the project report is yet to be prepared. Roughly we have decided that the hotel will have 40 to 50 rooms, a swimming poll etc and all such things which are found in any three-star hotel", says Mr Dias.

Mr Martins, the JGF leader, alleges that the hotel company is trying get the coastal regulation zone changed as no construction is allowed within 100 mts from the river and 200 mts from the high tide line of sea. But Mr Dias refutes it stating that no plans have yet been submitted to the concerned government authorities. "We will not violate any regulations", he claims.

But for the locals, they are not prepared to accept the project even if all the legal requirements are met with. "It's a direct threat to our fishing profession. Our social life is endangered with it", says Anton Fernandes, a fisherman.

The present mood is so anti-Excelsior that the locals are not prepared to take any work offered by the hotel company. Prakash Sattaji, a mason, says he won't take any construction work of the hotel company even if tempting sums are offered. "Our local owners don't sell even a piece of land to us to build houses, but allow outsiders to come and destroy our village life. Why to survive on such sinful money", he asks furiously.

The villagers are even enraged with locals, from other locality of the Morjim village, taking up job as security guards of the hotel company. They look at it as a divide and rule tactic as the rest of the village would automatically go against Temb once they raise a quarrel with the security personnel. But Mr Dias prefers to employ locals to provide employment while the protesters also harass the outsiders, he alleges.

While the local protesters are firm on not allowing the project under any circumstances, Mr Dias claims he is prepared to shift the project if the villagers of Morjim, and not settlers of Temb alone, don't favour it. In the same breath, he claims support from the majority of the villagers.

Most of the star hotels have come up in the state in the similar manner, without even violating the law of the land initially, but by destroying the social fabric of Goa. There are few exceptions who have maintained the village life, making it a tourist attraction. The government is also embracing such social and cultural invasion, in the name of tourism development.

Morjim is yet another example of such aggression, which is bound to destroy the traditional life style of Goa. It was a decade ago the villagers of Agonda, in the southernmost Canacona taluka, had successfully stalled the Seema Hotels project for similar reasons. Whether Morjim, part of the northernmost Pernem taluka, follow the suit or not is yet to be seen.






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