30 Dec 2018 05:39am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
A defining moment in 2018 was during the Goencho Avaaz meeting in Vasco, when the movement’s co-convenor Capt Viriato Fernandes was on the dais holding in his hands the Sagar Mala document. He asked the crowd what should be done with it, should it be torn, to which a very senior citizen seated in the front rows shouted it should be burnt, stood up from his seat, jumped onto the dais and pulled out a lighter to do set alight the document. It was symbolic, but it proved that even in the autumn of their lives, there are many Goans who have not lost their will to fight and will go battle for their land in whatever way they can till their limbs will allow them.
And that is why, as the year peters to an end, and everybody looks forward with hope, the news that the Union government had cleared the more liberal Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, came as a rude shocker to the green brigade in Goa, especially those fighting the destruction of the ecologically sensitive areas. It would amount to the funeral of the Indian coastline, one environment lover said, even as another claimed it was the last nail in the environment coffin. The notification will, as explained by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, ‘lead to enhanced activities in the coastal regions, thereby promoting economic growth and rejuvenate the coastal areas’. That is exactly what the Goan environmentalists have been fighting against, and would not want to see happen. For the many of those who saw victory when the CRZ Notification of 1991 was released, and are still fighting to ensure that this is not circumvented, the new notification is, therefore, a slap, a deadly blow that will crush their spirits more than anything else.
But that’s what 2018 has been giving the green brigade of Goa – blow after blow with the little victories just managing to slow the onslaught on the environment, not even pausing it. The news for these fighters of the environment is seldom good, and while the real estate, construction, hotel industry will rejoice at this new CRZ notification as they ring in the New Year with added gusto, the environment activist will have to return to the drawing board and plan anew their strategies to protect the environment that they love so much.
Goa has seen a year when environment issues took centre stage yet again, even giving birth to a new movement fighting to preserve Goa from the marauding arm of development. Goencho Avaaz stepped into the fighting arena, with a massive rally in Margao in April that grabbed the eyeballs and newspaper space with an exposure of zoning changes by politicians in power and those out of power. It did not look back but kept the momentum with two more meetings, challenging the government at every step. Goa has its fighters – the loud one and the silent ones, the kind seen at the Goencho Avaaz Vasco meeting – and they just won’t give up. Their task, however, becomes a lot harder, as the one CRZ notification that they could bank on to save the environment has been snatched from their hands. They have a fight on their hands, and a government that is now empowered with new rules to thwart the moves of the environment fighters.
That’s what happened in 2018, but if the end of a year is a time to look back, then it is a time to look forward to and there is much slated for 2019, that will keep the people and the government tied up. In our review section we look back first, at the events that dominated the news and then speak to a cross section of Goans asking them what they would want in 2019. From the responses, it does not look as if the Goan is asking for much, just better governance, but is the government listening? If it isn’t then it is unlikely that it will in the coming weeks.
The first few months of the year are going to be pretty busy. There are the National Games that Goa will finally be hosting. They will begin on March 30 and culminate on April 14. There is a lot of work still remaining to be completed before Goa can confidently say it is ready for the Games. There are stadiums to be built and logistic issues to be planned. Then there are the Lok Sabha elections that will be taking place sometime in April-May which will keep the nation riveted to the television screens in a quest to know who will lead the country in the next five years. Let’s accept it, in the first six months of the year, the government is going to have very little time to take care of the environment of Goa, which will put the onus on the pressure groups to protect the environment from the onslaught that can be expected once the notification is published in the gazette and comes into force.
Goa has much to look forward to in 2019, but little of it will make a positive difference to the environment in the State, as the government concerns itself with politics and development, glossing over the sustainability of the land. But expect not the environment to be pushed to the back burner. There are many who will keep the issue burning and they range from teens still in school and their life to look forward to, and senior citizens who have lived their lives in a Goa that is recognisable no longer. Over 18 months ago, when a Class XI student Sherwyn Correa had stood and spoken at the coal hearings in Vasco, this column had said, ‘Something is changing for Goa, it is in the good hands of people who are concerned about the future.’
That still holds true. But these people are faced by a wall that not just has to be scaled, but brought down too. In a year when there is an election to be won, what’s a little damage to the environment if it enables a party to get a few extra votes? It’s the attitude that has to change, if Goa is to survive the onslaught against its sensitive areas.