The cruise tourism season has got off to a start with the first luxury cruise ship berthing at Mormugao Port Trust with 884 passengers and 470 crew members on board. But is Goa ready for the new tourism season? The tourism stakeholders had been promised that the process to allot shack licences would be completed by mid-September. The Tourism Minister had directed the Department to complete the process by September 15, saying that as in the last season, the allotment of shacks for 2018-19 will also be carried out in a time-bound manner so that shack operators can set up their units and conduct business in a smooth manner. This was in response to an appeal by the shack operators to speed up the process.
We are now a day away from that deadline and there is a public holiday on September 14 and September 15 is also a government holiday, followed by a Sunday, so there is no way that the shack licences can be allotted on September 15 or even a day after that. The fact is that except maybe for the last season, the allotment of shack licences has often been a delayed process, with in some past seasons, shack operators having erected the seasonal structures even before the licences could be allotted.
There have been instances when licences have been cleared as late as in November and December, giving the shack operators merely a couple of months of the high tourism season, before the lean period starts. This should not happen, as Goa Tourism is not on a major high at the moment. Take for instance the complaint of the Colva tourism businesses who claim that the monsoon tourism has been a washout for them, with hardly any tourists visiting the beach. The previous monsoon, they say, was better. The effort should be to make tourism in Goa a year round activity, rather than seasonal, and here we have missed the bus. So delaying the shack licences will only further delay the earning opportunity of the shack operators.
But, giving out the licences does not end the job or the responsibility of the Tourism Department. Environmentalists have often pointed out to violations of the beach shack policy that could lead to inundations in the future, floods of the kind that devastated the Kerala coast this year. One main example they proffer is of the shack operators encroaching into the vegetation, destroying sand dunes, which disturbs the eco-system. It is not enough for the Tourism Policy to merely ban setting up shacks on dunes, there is also need for Tourism Department to keep check on the temporary structures after they have been erected, to ensure that they conform to the provisions in the licences.
And before that, since the site visits of the beaches for locating the shacks are yet to be held, it may be pertinent to follow the advice of environmentalists who have suggested that the shacks be allocated on the ‘dry beach’ with a setback ensuring that no sand dunes or vegetation are affected. In short, the eco-sensitive dunes and green cover should not be touched. An environmentalist has already warned saying, “The Kerala model was termed the best but it proved to be a total failure. Similarly, if we allow shacks in eco-sensitive areas then get ready to face the challenges of nature.”
There’s still an opportunity to remedy this and stakeholders will not have any reason to complain about this, as the main tourism body has itself counseled that the shack locations should be scientifically earmarked as per the GCZMA rules and regulations. Tourism Department should take the lead this year to ensure that not only are shack licences given before the start of the season, but that all environmental concerns are addressed in the process.