This is a stark battle being fought in the state. A fight is on to save the ecological richness of the state as well as ensure its unique lifestyle is maintained. This is being on various fronts. Projects initiated by the government at the centre have raised the ire of the people in the state. A campaign to save Mollem was initiated which attracted the people of the state especially the youth in large numbers. Legal challenges were raised and now it is in the court. Now with the state set to go to the elections next month the The Amche Mollem Campaign in consultation with youth groups and experts have drafted a ‘Goa’s Green Manifesto’. The manifesto reflects the concerns regarding rapid environmental degradation in the state. These are issues that are important to many Goans and particularly for young people for whom the environment is an election priority.
Farai Patel a wildlife biologist who was involved in the drafting of the manifesto said it was a group of people who came together in consultation with experts, youth of the Chicalim farmers club, Amche Mollem Club to name a few. He said there was public consultation following which it was included in the final document and placed online for everyone to read and evaluate. They got a response from groups as diverse as Goenchi Matti, Goa Heritage Action group which resulted in consultations. The entire process took a month and a half from start to finish, he said. Farai said everything was interconnected in Goa and this meant the manifesto involved the forests, the coasts, freshwater ecosystems, open natural ecosystems, air, agrarian ecosystems, human settlements, society and governance.
The manifesto is pretty detailed, it highlights the fact that Goa’s forests are some of the most bio-diverse on the planet. Though parts of these are protected, large areas of forest land outside protected areas have faced intense degradation. Privately owned forests are of particular concern when considering proposed amendments to the forest conservation Act. The large infrastructure projects in Mollem National Park are simply the tip of the iceberg; Goa’s forests are seeing rapid conversion which must be halted. In light of these issues there are demands which they believe have to be followed through. They would like to see the scrapping of the three infrastructure projects in Mollem as in their current form. Ensure that there is no diversion of forest land both within and outside protected areas for non-forest use, including for large infrastructure projects. Deforestation around human settlements is increasing flood risk and water security and increasing vulnerability to climate change. Estimate forest cover accurately, only including natural forests, and monitor this data regularly. Prioritise the planting of native, habitat-specific species for afforestation. Goa has a huge backlog of compensatory afforestation of some 1600 ha and is outsourcing afforestation to other states. Priority should be given to highly degraded areas such as abandoned mines and quarries within the state for afforestation. Set out an action plan to manage invasive species. Strengthen the rights of local and tribal peoples within and around forest ecosystems and include them in the governance of these areas through the creation of community reserves, community action projects, management committees and eco-tourism collectives. Ensure the creation of Biodiversity Management Committees in every panchayat and encourage the demarcation of ecologically important areas and completion of the People’s Biodiversity Register. Ensure the creation of Biodiversity Management Committees in every panchayat and encourage the demarcation of ecologically important areas and completion of the Peoples Biodiversity Register.
Farai signed off by saying they wanted to ensure the concerns of Goans, especially of the youth who would be its guardians in the future, would be present in it.
Marisha Rodrigues an independent ecologist who was involved in the campaign as well as being involved in the creation of the manifesto said it was an important document that articulated the concerns of the Goan who was concerned with the unplanned growth that was taking place which could have a deleterious effect on Goa. She said she had worked in the tourism industry and was keen on having a better tourism policy. All the experts who were contacted she said we very involved in creating it and the public had been very expressive with their observations, many of which were incorporated. She said everyone was involved and focused and were willing to stay in the fight for the long run because it would take a while before the desired result could be achieved.
Another participant in the process was Gilbert Soyus, an aerospace engineer in training and one who is also interested in wildlife and conservation. Speaking from England where he is presently studying he said he was involved in the campaign. He said “We formed a small group and took the lead. It involved people with various skill sets and who are not interested in being in the public eye. We spoke to experts and developed setoff requirements which had to be in the manifesto”. He said the primary focus of the manifesto is to ensure the state has a green initiative which is lacking so far. Gilbert said “There has never been talk of environmental conservation, no politicians spoke about it. Conservation was way down the list of to do’s. This manifesto will now bring it to the forefront. That was very important, it had to happen. The youth are now involved, it was important to understand their perspective. It was also important to avoid the generational gap”.
When asked how far they were willing to go he said it was important to have a certain level of conversation. It should not, he said, be a battle, it was important to have a level of communication with political parties and build upon that. When asked what was non- negotiable, he said it was important that laws that were already in place be enforced so that there were no loopholes. That could affect the smooth functioning of a society and could have an effect on local communities. He said the fact that conversations had commenced in society was good and he expected it to hopefully have an effect on the political classes when they would meet them all later in the month.
One can only hope it has a desired effect and help bring about a change in the political discourse on conservation in the state.