The meandering Chapora River, the site of pink and purple sunsets and swaying coconut trees, has become a hotbed of arguments and grievances over the past few years. Local residents of Siolim Vaddy in Goa are infuriated by the multiple inconveniences being caused by Teso Waterfront, a river facing resort which is in violation of several legalities. After repeated efforts to get the attention of authorities, they sought out the help of Community Correspondent Sulochana to galvanize the campaign to shut down what residents call a nuisance.
Built in 2010-11 and further expanded in 2012, the establishment violates several laws, most importantly the Coastal Regulation Zone, 2011 guidelines. According to this set of rules no construction can take place within 100 meters of the High Tide Line and while limited construction can be done between 200 and 500 meters, these cannot be pucca structures. Teso on the other hand has developed concrete and wooden flooring as well as a wooden compound wall with glass, reported the Village Panchayat Secretary in a site inspection report in January 2012. These can only proceed after getting a No Objection Certificate from the GCZMA and Teso Waterfront does not have this.
“I met the community towards the end of November 2014 and this issue was discussed with me. While documenting the story, I focused on the illegalities—the CRZ violations and noise pollution at night. The community took this initial video to the North Goa Collector, Ms. Nila Mohanan in the first week of January 2015. She informed the communities to put another complain to Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) as they are the authority, which deals with CRZ violations. I went with them to file this complaint on the 16th of January. We were also directed to the Deputy Collector who was instructed to deal with the noise pollution,” explains Sulochana.
Since filming the video Sulochana has also helped the community coordinate its actions, file complaints and follow up on them. It took about a week and a half of jumping through bureaucratic loopholes and hours on the phone to get the GCZMA moving on this second complaint. At one point the legal officer of the North Goa office even suggested that the file could not be traced. The community people however were relentless in the perusal of the issue. During a meeting with a GCZMA official, the community was assured that this time it would be a demolition order that would be handed to Teso. What came instead was a timid ‘Stop-work cum Show-Cause’ notice on 12th February 2015. The management was given 15 days to respond to this but hasn’t done so till date.
The management of Teso Waterfront has been blatant in ignoring the several notices that they have received between 2011 and 2015—these range from severe warnings by the Panchayat office about the impending demolitions of the illegal structure to directions from the GCZMA to immediately stop all operations. Even as the community’s nerves get more and more frazzled because of sleepless nights, the authorities have failed to carry out the their duty of actually shutting down Teso.
What the community in Siolim and Sulochana have highlighted together is not a one-off case in Goa. In 2014, the Minister for Environment, Alina Saldanha said that 27 cases of CRZ violations were being looked into. And that is just the official number of such cases. Residents of many Panchayats worry that a strong nexus between politicians and owners of hotels and properties prevents any real action from being taken.
Loosening up the CRZ regulations, as Mr. Parulekar, Goa’s Tourism Minister suggested recently, will definitely throw open spectacular opportunities for those in the tourism industry. Can you imagine the plush beachside and riverside resorts? But, it has to be remembered that Goa’s beaches remain relatively pristine because of these very laws. There are already several threats to nature in these coastal regions. Take the Olive Ridley nesting site in Morjim for example, it is inundated with plastic and beer cans and the number of hatchlings has dwindled in the past few years.
We need to boost tourism, but not at the cost of the beaches and rivers which make Goa the charming place that it is.