In Goa, lux­ury ho­tels are spark­ing con­flict

Nearly 200 hectares of land —or as much as 374 foot­ball fields—is in­volved in seven tourism-re­lated con­flicts, af­fect­ing about 3,100 peo­ple in the state

Business Standard - - IN DEPTH - NIHAR GOKHALE Reprinted with per­mis­sion from In­di­, a datadriven not-for- profit or­gan­i­sa­tion

“Our vil­lage is the size of a co­conut shell, how can it take five big re­sorts?” for­mer sailor Anthony D’Silva let the ques­tion hang in the air as a lux­ury car whizzed past on the nar­row vil­lage road that leads to Arossim beach in south Goa.

A typ­i­cal Goan vil­lage road, roughly five me­tres wide, curves sev­eral times around tiled-roof homes, un­der a peren­nial tree cover, be­fore open­ing up at a dead end amid sand dunes near the Ara­bian Sea.

Two re­sorts al­ready op­er­ate on a four-kilo­me­tre stretch near Arossim beach, and de­vel­op­ers have pro­posed three more—two of them on ei­ther side of the scenic dead­end.

The num­ber of ma­jor ho­tels and re­sorts has in­creased 170 per cent from 42 in 2008 to 113 in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the state depart­ment of tourism. In com­par­i­son, bud­get ho­tels grew 100 per cent from 2,142 in 2008 to 4,286 in 2018.

Arossim sym­bol­ises the grow­ing con­flict be­tween the rise of lux­ury tourism in Goa, In­dia’s small­est but one of the coun­try’s most pros­per­ous states. Goa’s pub­lic-health ex­pen­di­ture is four times the In­dian aver­age, as In­di­aSpend re­ported in Fe­bru­ary 2017; med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties abound, and there is no short­age of health pro­fes­sion­als.

As the Goa govern­ment now pushes for greater pros­per­ity, driven in part through tourism —which in 2010 (the lat­est data avail­able) ac­counted for 8 per cent of the state’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct and at­tracted 7.8 mil­lion tourists in 2017, or five times Goa’s pop­u­la­tion— res­i­dents al­lege en­croach­ment of com­mon land, takeover of the com­mu­nity’s eco­log­i­cal as­sets and vi­o­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal laws.

By Oc­to­ber 2018, nearly 200 hectares of land — or as much as 374 foot­ball fields—was in­volved in seven tourism-re­lated con­flicts, af­fect­ing about 3,100 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to Land Con­flict Watch, a net­work of re­searchers that maps data about land con­flicts. The net­work has so far col­lected 16 such tourism-re­lated con­flicts in In­dia, span­ning 8,500 hectares, or al­most 16,000 foot­ball fields, and af­fect­ing about 75,000 peo­ple in eight states in­clud­ing Hi­machal Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Ma­nipur. In most of th­ese cases, poor and marginalised com­mu­ni­ties op­pose tourism pro­jects be­cause they fear evic­tion.

In Goa, while direct evic­tions are rare, tourism con­flicts gen­er­ally in­volve threats to com­mon land and com­mu­nity re­sources, which could then lead to evic­tions. For in­stance, a golf course is propos­ing to take over 90 per cent of the land in a vil­lage, which in­cludes farm­land and forests. To avoid such sit­u­a­tions, Goans, like D’Silva, have be­gun to set aside time from their jobs to put up road­blocks, and to fight mul­ti­ple court cases, chal­leng­ing the global per­cep­tion of Goa as a tourism state.

In 2017, 7.8mil­lion tourists vis­ited Goa, dou­ble the num­ber four years ago, and five times the state’s 1.5 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion. The num­ber of ho­tels has mul­ti­plied as well—dou­bling every 10 years, with lux­ury ho­tels be­ing the fastest grow­ing seg­ment, ac­cord­ing to state tourism depart­ment data. The growth in the num­ber of Cat­e­gory A ho­tels, which in­cludes lux­ury ho­tels, is the high­est among all ho­tel cat­e­gories un­der the Goa, Da­man and Diu Reg­is­tra­tion of Tourist Trade Act of 1982, and have risen from 29 in 1998 to 42 in 2008 to 113 as of March 2018. One-half of ho­tels in this cat­e­gory are “star ho­tels” which are an even more lux­u­ri­ous cat­e­gory of ho­tels.

Al­though Cat­e­gory A ho­tels make up just 2 per cent of all ho­tels, they are far big­ger in size, and host a quar­ter of the rooms avail­able in Goa. An aver­age Cat­e­gory A prop­erty would have 110 rooms, three times the num­ber of rooms in smaller ho­tels un­der Cat­e­gory B and 25 times that of the low­est Cat­e­gory D. As a re­sult, even though smaller ho­tels are rou­tinely hauled up for en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­la­tions, it is the high-end ho­tels that re­quire large tracts of land, put more bur­den on re­sources. In Arossim, re­sent­ment against re­sorts started in­ten­si­fy­ing in 2006 when a 160-room five-star re­sort was pro­posed on a 20-acre beach­fac­ing prop­erty. Com­pe­tent Au­to­mo­biles, a Delhi-based car deal­er­ship , had pur­chased the prop­erty from a wealthy land­lord who held a Por­tuguese-era land ti­tle to it. There is no dis­pute over the sale, but two sep­a­rate groups of villagers—Cansaulim Villagers Ac­tion Com­mit­tee (CVAC) and Cansaulim-Arossim-Cue­lim Civic and Con­sumers Fo­rum (or CAC-CCF)—ar­gue that al­though the site is a pri­vate prop­erty, it is eco­log­i­cally im­por­tant to the com­mu­nity be­cause storm wa­ter drains car­ry­ing ex­cess rain­wa­ter from the vil­lage con­verge into the prop­erty be­fore drain­ing out into the sea. It is also a bio­di­ver­sity “hotspot”, sup­port­ing a large green cover, and medic­i­nal herbs.

“The prop­erty is such an eco-sen­si­tive area,” said Mar­coni Cor­reia, a Cansaulim-based physi­cian who heads the CAC-CCF. “It hosts two storm drains that were named by our an­ces­tors.”

On the re­cent morn­ing, a dense co­conut or­chard played games with the sun­light on the re­sort land. Pea­cocks called from tree canopies, around green paddy fields bor­dered by wa­ter chan­nels. The wa­ter chan­nels con­verge into a big­ger chan­nel that cuts through the beach sand and drains into the sea.

“Th­ese wa­ter chan­nels are the life­line of the vil­lage,” D’Silva said, as he showed how smaller drains wind across the land­scape to meet at the prop­erty. “The sand dunes are nat­u­ral fortresses against the sea. With th­ese two gone our vil­lage will face a Ker­ala-type sit­u­a­tion,” he said re­fer­ring to the floods that rav­aged Ker­ala in Au­gust.

The Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) said that the cen­tral en­vi­ron­ment min­istry had ar­bi­trar­ily ex­empted the re­sort from ob­tain­ing the clear­ance re­quired un­der the En­vi­ron­ment Im­pact As­sess­ment No­ti­fi­ca­tion, 2006, which could have in­cluded a study of the site’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pa­ram­e­ters, ac­cord­ing to its Jan­uary 2017 judge­ment in an ap­peal filed by the CAC-CCF and CVAC. The NGT di­rected the min­istry to fol­low the process for the en­vi­ron­ment clear­ance.

An en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance awarded in 2017 ac­knowl­edged that 500 trees ex­isted on the re­sort’s land and al­lowed 200 of th­ese to be felled. “Some­how the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry was in­clined to clear the project,” Cor­reia said. In December 2017, with all clear­ances in hand, Com­pe­tent Au­to­mo­biles sold the prop­erty to Daf­fodil Ho­tels, an­other Delhi-based firm, which tried to com­mence con­struc­tion of the re­sort. But the res­i­dents stepped up their re­sis­tance.

“We will not al­low the re­sort at any cost,” said Mal­lika Fer­nan­des, a CVAC mem­ber. Villagers said their re­sis­tance to the re­sort has held off the other two pro­posed pro­jects in Ar­rosim. “If this project comes then the other two would also get ap­proved. But our vil­lage doesn’t have that kind of car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity,” said Fer­nan­des.

No study has been un­der­taken to de­ter­mine how many large re­sorts Goa’s coasts and hin­ter­land can take. Master plans pre­pared in 1987 and 2001 were shelved fol­low­ing pub­lic op­po­si­tion as th­ese plans rec­om­mended in­creas­ing the num­ber of re­sorts in both coastal and non-coastal ar­eas with­out as­sess­ing the state’s ecol­ogy.

“There has been no clear nor firm pol­icy re­lat­ing to tourism,” the World Bank said in a 1998 re­port on Goa’s tourism in­dus­try. Though the govern­ment ap­proved lux­ury ho­tels on an “ad hoc ba­sis”, the re­port said, there was a pos­i­tive bias to­wards ho­tels aimed at “up­mar­ket tourism”.

In 2013, the Goa govern­ment asked the in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tancy KPMG to de­sign yet an­other tourism plan. In 2014, Goa in­tro­duced a new state in­vest­ment pol­icy that talked of “en­cour­ag­ing more bou­tique and lux­ury ho­tels”.

“The govern­ment has in­creased its fo­cus on high spend­ing tourists with a po­ten­tial to sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact the state econ­omy and pro­vide em­ploy­ment,” the pol­icy said.

A draft of the tourism plan re­leased in 2016 called for “an em­pha­sis on en­hanced quality and quan­tity of higher spend­ing tourists, both do­mes­tic and for­eign”, but did not spell out the state’s car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity for lux­ury fa­cil­i­ties. In Fe­bru­ary 2018, state cabi­net min­is­ter Vi­jai Sarde­sai had courted con­tro­versy by call­ing bud­get tourists “scum of the earth”, while ar­gu­ing for bring­ing more “rich tourists” into Goa.

Sarde­sai’s com­ments seemed ironic to peo­ple in the coastal ham­let of Tira­col, ar­guably the most known tourism-re­lated con­flict in Goa. In 2012, Lead­ing Ho­tels, a Delhi-based firm, had pro­posed to build an in­ter­na­tional-stan­dard golf course and re­sort over 300 acres in Tira­col, roughly 90 per cent of the to­tal land in Tira­col. The project grabbed head­lines in 2015 af­ter villagers, who tried stop­ping the prop­erty’s con­struc­tion, were roughed up by com­pany-hired “bounc­ers”.

Later, the Bom­bay High Court ad­mit­ted a pub­lic in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion that al­leged large-scale vi­o­la­tion of the state’s ten­ancy re­forms of the 1960s that had granted land rights to all Tira­col villagers. Ac­cord­ing to the court’s 2017 judge­ment, Tira­col’s lone land­lord, along with Lead­ing Ho­tels, had per­suaded the district ad­min­is­tra­tion to strike off the ten­ancy ti­tles on tech­ni­cal grounds, clear­ing the land’s sale and con­ver­sion to a golf course. The high court or­dered a re­view of those de­ci­sions but the col­lec­torate stood by its ear­lier or­ders. A fresh ap­peal is pend­ing be­fore the high court, and no work has be­gun on the golf course.

Pro­pos­als to in­tro­duce star ho­tels and tourism pro­jects in the state’s green in­te­ri­ors, away from the beach—which the draft tourism plan ar­gues for—have also sparked con­flicts.

Villagers of Quel­losim vil­lage, about 10 km in­land from Arossim, are op­pos­ing the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of Ke­sar­val, an all-year spring and mon­soon wa­ter­fall that has, for decades, drawn vis­i­tors who be­lieve in the wa­ter’s medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. Al­though Ke­sar­val is barely a minute away from the busy Na­tional High­way 17, a pris­tine ever­green for­est and moss-cov­ered stones sur­round the spring.

In June 2018, the Goa Tourism De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion floated a ten­der to se­lect a de­vel­oper to build a “three-star or higher cat­e­gory busi­ness ho­tel” on six acres of land around the wa­ter­fall. Be­fore the bid­ding could open, the Save Ke­sar­val Spring Move­ment was born.

For many Goans, like Anthony D’Silva of Arossim, the ar­rival of re­sorts in their vil­lage meant the pos­si­bil­ity of new job op­por­tu­ni­ties— hopes that were soon dashed. “There was no de­vel­op­ment in the vil­lage un­til the two re­sorts came. But even when the re­sorts were built, no Goans were hired in white col­lar work and were only of­fered san­i­ta­tion jobs. In one re­sort I was told about a va­cancy as an as­sis­tant waiter, not even a full waiter!” D’Silva said.

“We were op­pos­ing the project when my first child was born, who is now six years old and we are still fight­ing,” said Viana D’Silva, Anthony’s spouse. “I don’t know the project pro­po­nents, but I do know my vil­lage and its beauty,” said Viana. “I want to give it to my chil­dren as I know it.”

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