Frederick Noronha (FN) on Wed, 30 Mar 2005 16:21:30 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> COMMENT: Goa -- green, greying or gone?

Goa: Green, greying or gone?

By Frederick Noronha

Environmentalism in Goa is a generation old. Way back, in the mid-seventies,
when this label was still to be adequately understood, fishermen and their
landed local allies (including the MLA now in the news, Matanhy Saldanha)
were battling coastal pollution by Goa's first fertilizer plant.

In the 'eighties, the spurt of luxury hotels and charter flights saw
tourists being greeted with cow-dung. Drastic this may have been, but it
made the point. From then till now, Goan environmentalism has walked a long,
if often controversy-hit, road.

Issues like the Konkan Railway were given a religious, rather communal,
twist. Desperate campaigners were caught between getting the Church involved
and derailing the issue, or seeing it not picking up steam at all.

Often, there was the media and the 'development' lobby (read
contractor-bureaucrat-politician nexus) seizing the opportunity thrown up in
a state where accidents of history and geography still largely shape our
religious affiliations, and, consequently, our attitudes towards life.

In recent times, environmentalists have been accused of not doing enough, of
ignoring vital issues, or, worse still, of selling out to the very interests
they claim to fight. Both extremes -- deification or baseless insinuation --
are misplaced. But, in truth, most of those making such allegations have not
done anything themselves to take Goa a step closer to a greener environment.

Outgoing chief minister Manohar Parrikar's, leveraging of the Press to tar
reputations, is a good example. This was done even while his government
failed on issues ranging from the River Princess, to mountains of garbage,
the decimation of Goa's groundwater, and the plastic menace brought on by
a clear case of unbridled over-consumption.

Yet, in environmental terms, Goa is an amazing place. There are so many
stories just waiting to be told. Never mind that, for the most part, our
media pretends these don't exist.

Maybe the clash is because this small region has seen drastic changes over
the past generation. (Anthropologist and Goaologist Dr Robert S Newman
argues that Goa has recently been undergoing the most severe changes ever,
except perhaps during the times of the Inquisition.)

Hazardous industrialisation, resource-hungry mega tourism expansion, speedy
urbanisation, a water-crisis in a high rainfall state, pressures on wildlife
(peacocks enter homes near industrial estates), the destruction of fields
and livelihoods... all these and more are a reality to the people of the

Mining has been made to vanish through the use of media framing (selection,
emphasis, exclusion, interpretation and presentation of facts). Villagers
have faced issues like bauxite mining and holiday-village or golf course
plans in Pernem, saline intrusion into coastal areas, the destruction of
sand-dunes (which Radharao Gracias fought against in his more
idealistic-days), destruction of wetlands and 'khazans', the devastation of
fish resources, aquaculture pollution, the loss of green zones in urban
areas, pollution generated by the lack of adequate public transportation.

This list is long and incomplete.

Slowly more voices are getting heard. Competitive pressures on the media is
opening some space. As stories emerge, it's becoming increasingly clear that
environmentalism isn't just a middle-class passion. On the contrary,
experience is repeatedly showing that the very same vote-banks whom
politicians claim to represent are facing the strongest squeeze when their
livehoods and sources of subsistence come under threat.

One generation later, Goa's biggest history is that a new army of young
blood has grown up to carry the flag of concern. It's amazing to see how
many youngsters care deeply for green issues, and how 'mainstreamised' the
fringe concerns of yesteryears have become.

Yet, you still need to weed out the fakes and the lip-service specialists
from long-term, sustainable, and un-purchasable commitment.

Many of the earlier generation are tired, if not demoralised. They seem to
be missing the point: building people is more important than fire-fighting.

Talking about the environmentalism of the yesteryears, we do need to shift
away from one of its legacies: that of placing only nature on the altar, and
forgetting to factor in men (and women) who have been living within that
very same environment for centuries. Environmentalism can seem elitest and
out-of-sync if it overlooks the aspirations of the deprived ... without, of
course, using this as an excuse for the rape of the place.

Environmentalism in Goa has a lot to still do, in terms of going beyond just
fire-fighting and project-mode actions. We need approaches that work, and
build change on a large scale. It's essential to getting a wider grasp on
the issues that matter, and find ways of coping with them.

Can't we, for instance, wake up to the fact that no amount of recycling is
going to battle the plastic bottle-and-garbage menace, unless we cut down on
consumption? Isn't there a way of tackling severe problems like sucking the
groundwater dry (for sale at a few paise a litre) and the rampant
land-coversions we saw in the early and mid 'nineties?

As they say, where there's life there is hope. Those in Goa concerned about
the environment need to turn their back on failure, factionalism and

Above all, they need to define the roots of the problem properly. Right from
forces like political corruption, to unbridled middle-class consumerism, and
the incited (but understandable) aspirations of the poor. (Every bout of
political instability -- including the 'stability' of the BJP kind -- costs
Goa's environment dear. The price of political compromise and buying support
is there for all to see, in the form of ugly monuments that scar the
environment.) Then, there's also the profits-before-people approach from the
'leaders' of society, and an acute lack of foresight by our policy planners
as reflected in the woefully inadequate public transportation system,
leading to a crisis on our roads.

As Goa mistrusts Goan, and we collectively race to squeeze out the most from
Mother Nature, a thought that comes up: can this region afford to lose the
very charm that makes her Goa?
The writer is  also founder of the India-EJ, a mailing list for
journalists across India interested in environmental issues.

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