Panaji: It is as if some evil eye has been cast on Goa's golden goose - its beaches - which year after year harvest tourists by the hundreds of thousands. If natural threats like erosion weren't serious enough, the latest threat for Goa's golden beaches comes from greedy land-hoggers who, the Goa government believes, are steadily encroaching on the beaches, all of which are state-owned. Alarmed by this, the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) is now in the process of commissioning a survey which will identify the encroached beach land before a legal move is calibrated to wrest it back.
"It has come to our attention. We have come across several instances where the beach land is being encroached upon. Since the commercial value of the land along the coast is high, we want to exactly know what the position is," GTDC managing director Nikhil Desai told IANS. Desai's concern stems from the fact that most of the encroachments have occurred in Goa's two prized coastal sub-districts - Bardez in north Goa which is home to some of the most popular beaches like Calangute, Baga, Candolim, Anjuna and Vagator and Miramar and Salcete in South Goa with beaches like Colva, Betalbatim and Benaulim.
Property prices in these sought-after areas have already hit the roof, especially along the coastline. Encroachment of prime government land, especially the sandy beaches, would not only dent the pockets of the tourism ministry, which is the custodian of the property, but also has potential to derail Goa's tourism gravy train due to over-exploitation of the area. Tourism department officials claim that private hoteliers and real estate speculators were found changing property markers and encroaching on government-owned land, but the biggest violators were found to be private shack owners, who are a powerful political lobby.
"Every year, the dimensions of these shacks increase and we lose more land every time. This has to stop some time. It is worst in places like Calangute and Baga, where some of the shacks operate all year round," a tourism official said. Over 2.6 million tourists visit Goa's beaches annually and more often than not it is these shacks which provide handy refreshments and alcohol right by the surf's edge. Encroachment apart, Goa's beaches are already losing the battle to rapid erosion, where rising sea levels are eating away at the sand, shrinking the width of the beaches.
The worst hit is Goa's tourism mecca - the Candolim-Baga beach stretch - where a majority of Goa's tourists, both domestic and international frolic. Government data suggest that over 25 percent of Goa's coastline is already under threat of erosion. The state government's water resources department (WRD), which has been entrusted with the task of restoring the eroding beaches, claims that erosion was a global phenomenon and that it was doing the best to arrest the sand slide. "We might go in for new technology to reduce the effects of this erosion. The geo-tubes which we used last time have had limited success. We should have an answer to this problem soon," Water Resources Minister Dayanand Mandrekar said.