Cyclone Vayu passed about 500 kms off the coast of Goa, as it travelled north and is expected to make landfall in Saurashtra, Gujarat on Thursday.
The Gujarat government has already evacuated people living in the area that is most likely to get hit by the cyclone. Just over a month ago, another cyclone had hit the east coast, at Odisha, where lakhs of people had been evacuated and lives were saved. Vayu did not affect Goa, but in passing even at a great distance away, it emphasised two aspects – how vulnerable is the coast of Goa and how unprepared is the State administration to any disaster, however, small it may be.
Exactly a year ago, civil society had petitioned the State and Centre opposing the then proposed changes to the Coastal Regulation Zone 2018 draft notification. One of the main objections that NGOs had to the draft notification was the reduction of the CRZ to 50 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL) from the earlier 200 metres. This reduction, it had been pointed out last year, would result in massive changes to the landscape, as it will allow development in areas where it is now prohibited. When the CRZ notification got the cabinet nod, there was no change. The State argument is that this reduction does not apply to Goa due to the population density clause in the notification, that keeps the State safe. But, greens don’t give this much importance, as a clause such as this can always be amended.
What’ important to note here is that, despite the opposition from civil society to the proposed laws, the State government, in its response to the draft, had requested permission for the erection of temporary seasonal structures like beach shacks, huts and other promotional activities like beach wedding and music festival, in the inter-tidal zone, activity that is otherwise prohibited in this area. The high waves lashing the coast, waters coming inland, striking against concrete walls, and sea water entering structures is but a teaser of what Goa can expect from nature’s fury when the ecology is tampered with. Lest we forget, the sand dunes and the vegetation on the beaches serve a purpose and are not there to merely give us a break from the scenery.
This little experience cannot be ignored, and it has now made it more imperative for the government to take into consideration every change in the fragile eco-system as it can have devastating effects at a later date. In the rush to boost the tourism industry of the State, the administration cannot turn a blind eye to the concerns of the people raised over the fragile nature of the coastal environment. Ironically, there were tourists who despite the warnings of not venturing into the sea were quite happy to get buffeted by the high waves and even be photographed doing it.
Aside from highlighting the delicate nature that is protecting Goa from disaster, there was other damage in the form of trees falling, power blackouts, water logging that kept the fire and emergency services rushing from one call to another. Parts of Goa remained powerless for hours, even Margao suffered a long stretch of a blackout, as the Electricity Department workers struggled to restore the supply. Traffic was distrupted due to accidents occuring from slippery road conditions, and the feared water logging at Cortalim did surface. Goa is just not prepared to meet the monsoon fury that is yet to hit the State.
The cursory pre-monsoon works, restricted to cutting tree branches and clearing gutters, which the local administrations undertake are clearly not enough to stem the ruin that the rains bring. It requires an overall plan that encompasses the entire State, with the local governing bodies then make accountable to implement it in their areas.