Known for its white sands and the Tiracol fort, Keri-Tiracol, the northernmost panchayat of the state, is explored by tourists wishing to know a typical Goan village at leisure. The beach here is still pristine, but together with the entire Keri village, it is battling for survival.
Quoting from lore, elders say the village was created by land filling in the River Tiracol, and that's probably why the entire soil in the village is sandy. They believe that if the river is deepened the entire village will be washed away as the banks will cave in triggering massive erosion.
Despite this belief, illegal sand extraction flourishes in the River Tiracol. There has already been largescale damage to the environment and locals worry that their houses will be washed away one day.
"The activity should be stopped immediately. It is a threat to the entire village," says local Vishal Kerkar.
Pernem deputy collector Meena Naik Goltekar had recently convened a meeting with locals and had warned them against illegal sand extraction. "They don't have any permission to carry out sand extraction. It's illegal," Goltekar had said. She had assured locals that the surprise raids would continue. Sources, however, say the activity still continues clandestinely.
Aware of the locals' fears, minister for health and panchayats Laxmikant Parsekar had assured Keri's residents that a retaining wall would be built along a kilometre of the River Tiracol to protect houses along the banks. Around 40 houses are facing a threat of damage and even collapse allegedly on account of extensive sand mining.
"Rs 4 crore has been sanctioned for the construction of the 1,250 m retaining wall to save the houses. The work on the wall will start soon and will be taken up in phases," the Mandrem MLA had said. He subsequently told TOI, "Whatever is illegal will be stopped".
Another concern for Keri's locals is a jetty for mining purposes being planned at Aronda, Maharashtra, just across the Goa border. The jetty on the Maharashtra side of the River Tiracol is planned to enable loading of iron ore onto barges.
Villagers fear that widening and deepening of the river's mouth to facilitate barge movement will lead to seawater entering the river with higher intensity, endangering Keri's locals.
Fishermen have also opposed the move claiming it will destroy their livelihood. "We have been given to understand that the river will be deepened by 30 m for the movement of barges into the sea. The deep and oily water will destroy fishing. We will only catch catfish as no other fish will survive," rues Santosh Tari, a Keri-based fisherman. Locals claim the private firm engaged in the jetty's construction will widen the river's mouth at Keri-Tiracol by clearing the mountain that acts as a natural protection.
Another big problem for the village is the eroding shoreline. Locals claim the beach's erosion has been fastened by the "poorly engineered" protection wall-a gabion flexible sea wall-that has started to cave in.
"The situation is worsening day by day and the beach that was once famous for its pine trees has only a few trees left," says local Vinayak Kaskar.
Sarpanch Francis Rodrigues says, "I am with the locals on all the issues. If the locals don't want sand extraction and the jetty, the panchayat will never support it." He adds that the panchayat has already passed a resolution opposing the jetty, and this has been forwarded to the government.
Garbage on the beach
There are no dustbins on the beach. As this beach is visited by many tourists, garbage is strewn all over. Locals have demanded that the government place dustbins on the beach and take up the cleanliness of the beach. Locals also say that broken glass bottles of liquor, thrown by picnickers, makes walking on the sand very dangerous.
Tiracol, a village in the river, which is part of Keri panchayat, is often partially cut off because of the disruption of ferry services on the Keri-Tiracol route. The disruption is caused by the deposition of sand at the ferry wharf on the Keri point. Locals say that the change in topography is because of the rampant sand extraction and if dredging takes place for the mining jetty the river's entire course will change. "There should be a policeman posted at the ferryboat point to avoid clashes that take place while boarding the ferryboat. Many a time we have to intervene," says local Anand Parab.
Sarpanch Francis Rodrigues says, "Construction of a new ferryboat wharf will start soon, we have received sanction for the same."
Bus stop shed
There is no bus stop shed at the Tiracol ferry wharf. A recent gram sabha passed a resolution demanding the reconstruction of the bus stop sheds at the Keri and Tiracol ferry wharfs. Work that had started, is stopped at the moment.
"I am with the locals on all the issues. If the locals don't want sand extraction and the jetty, the panchayat will never support it. We have moved a resolution to the government opposing the jetty. " — Francis Rodrigues, sarpanch
"I have received complains about illegal sand extraction. Officials are continuously monitoring it. No illegal sand extraction will be allowed." —- Laxmikant Parsekar, Mandrem MLA, minister for health & panchayats
"Sand mining should be stopped immediately. It is a threat to the entire village." —– Vishal Kerkar, resident
"We have been given to understand that for the sake of the jetty the river will be deepened by 30 m for the movement of barges into the sea. The deep and oily water will destroy fishing. We will only catch catfish as no other fish will survive." —- SantoshTari, local fisherman
"The erosion of the beach is worsening day by day, and the beach that was once famous for its pine trees has only a few trees lefts." —- Vinayak Kaskar, local [TOI]