Goa, and especially the coastal belt of Bardez, occupied a special place in the heart of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. More than 30 years ago, that is 20 years after Goa's liberation from Portuguese rule, when the first tourism boom started in the state, she had the foresight to realize that left to themselves the local people and other vested interests would destroy the scenic beach environment in their quest to rake in profits from the tourism boom. Which was how the CRZ rules restricting construction activity along the beaches were introduced in 1981. So enamoured was Gandhi with Goa'sâ€”and Bardez'sâ€”beautiful beaches that when India hosted the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting in 1983, she chose Goa for the R&R retreat, putting Goa firmly on the world tourism map.The first international charters from Europe came soon after, and Goa has never looked back.
The tourism boom of the last three decades has made millionaires of many Goans in Calangute-Candolim, but this has come at a tremendous cost to the social and environmental fabric of the coastal belt.
Calangute and Candolim are unrecognizable from what they were back then. In the early '70s there was only the GTDC Tourist Residency at Calangute, and by the mid-70s there was the Taj Fort Aguada resort. Now there are over a thousand resorts spread in these two areas alone, which are misleadingly still called villages though they've become huge resort cities in reality.
The Taj would now never be allowed to set up their resort in the fort as they did back then, and the GTDC Residency would also never be allowed to be built because of CRZ rules. If it wasn't for the CRZ rules the entire beachfront would have been lined with concrete monstrosities.
But, despite the CRZ rules, there are many constructions which have openly violated the rules using some loopholes. The loophole allowing 'repairs' of existing structures within the CRZ areas is conveniently used by all to demolish and build brand-new structures which are much bigger than the original structures. In this manner almost all Goans staying within the CRZ areas in Calangute-Candolim have built small and medium guesthouses.
Even large beach-side resorts have used the same route to build sprawling resorts by simply buying existing houses and rebuilding them.
All this has been made possible because the local authorities like the village panchayats look the other way because nobody wants to alienate their voters. There is also the Goan connect. "They are all our people," a sarpanch says, "How can we hurt them?"
The only worry is how to hoodwink the CRZ authorities. So all the villagers who used to go to the Gulf to make their money three decades ago, returned with their petro-dollars and converted their beach-side homes into small resorts and guesthouses, CRZ rules be dammed.
But despite it all the GCZMA, saddled with thousands of complaints of CRZ violations, does manage to raise its hand once in a while and does what it can to protect the beaches in Calangute-Candolim.
While that has meant that some of the sand dunes are still there, the flip-side is that the sand dunes have become convenient garbage dumps. That's because the local people see no intrinsic value in the beach itself. The real source of revenue for them are the guesthouses and sundry services. They forget that all that is possible only because of the beaches. [TOI]