Activists assail Goa coastal management plan at marathon hearings
Activists and environmentalists pointed out several discrepancies in the draft of the controversial Goa coastal zone management plan during the much delayed public hearings on Thursday, with many alleging it was unlikely to protect and restore the coast.
“The plan has several omissions of fishing villages, fishing sites and traditional access routes to the coast have not been shown. We are demanding that the plans submitted by the coastal villages which accurately reflect local knowledge, be accepted and incorporated into the final plan,” Abhijit Prabhudesai, an activist said.
The plan, which is a statutory document under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2011, was initially meant to have been ready by 2015 but has seen several delays forcing the National Green Tribunal to ban fresh permissions for coastal development or business until the plan is finalized.
Environmental activist group Goa Foundations said the draft contained “no management plan for the sand dunes anywhere, no management plan for the turtle nesting beaches, no management plan for the khazan lands [and] no management plan for the mangroves.”
“The local communities for whom the notification was designed and intended to benefit have not been consulted in its preparation. They are now being asked to acquiesce in the draft prepared by experts who have little credible knowledge of local conditions and have made huge errors. The draft plan, therefore, focuses only on geomorphological descriptions of the coastal area,” the Goa Foundation, which refrained from participating in the public hearing, but submitted written submissions, said.
Among the foremost complaints, the activists have said that Goa’s khazan lands, which are an intricate system of low lying lands that are inundated during high tides, have been either only partially marked or erroneously classified in different villages.
“A Khazan Management Plan should have been under preparation from January 2011. This was nowhere done and the department of Environment and the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority should be held criminally responsible for this lapse,” the Goa Foundation said.
According to Dr Antonio Mascarenhas, a scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography, the plan misses out on a dune conservation policy including its management, restoration and rebuilding.
“A robust CZMP must contain a dune conservation and restoration package,” he said.
Activist Avinash Tavares alleged only a fraction of the total sand dunes were shown on the plan leaving others open for construction and destruction along the coast.
“The sand dunes shown in the draft CZMP are but a subset of the total number of sand dunes in Goa. The sand dunes shown are those which have not been covered by vegetation, landscaping, encroached upon by temporary or permanent structures and on areas where the owner has applied for development permission. All coastal sand dunes and sand dune areas must be shown inspite of any legal/illegal structure before and after 1991,” he said.
Stakeholders also pointed out omissions of other marine ecosystems ranging from coral reefs to turtle nesting sites.
“The CZMP maps have not included all areas in Goa known to support coral reefs, including areas north of Grande Island and around Pequeno Island. Turtle nesting sites have also not been accurately marked. This is particularly concerning considering that the identification of these sites will determine the kind of development permitted in their vicinity,” a group of researchers said in their submission.
They have called for the creation of specific management plans for each ecosystem that take into account ecological value as well as the usage of these systems by various stakeholders.
“We suggest the following ecosystems are included: coral reefs, seagrass meadows, dolphin foraging sites, rocky intertidal areas, seaweed dominated areas and important bird habitats. Each of these is important for the ecology and biodiversity of the state, and many can be easily degraded and overexploited. We recommend that during the drafting of these plans all stakeholders, including tourism operators and researchers, are extensively consulted,” they added.
Activists and ecologists who participated in the hearing alleged that the
two sessions held simultaneously in North and South Goa seemed more like an official formality than a sincere attempt to hear public opinion.
While only 45 out of more than 700 registered could speak at the South Goa hearing, in North Goa, the hearing concluded well past midnight with speakers not allowed more than 15 minutes each.
“To add to this, so many speakers just could not continue till this late. It seems that they just wanted to tick a box and say that the hearing was done. The disregard for the people of Goa and the people in Goa was obvious,” Albertina Almeida an activist, said.