Ahead of polls, Goa’s green groups want parties to put state’s environment first

Published on Feb 06, 2022 06:24 PM IST

The manifesto has been endorsed in the past by the Aam Aadmi Party and currently by the Trinamool Congress.

Key demands in the green manifesto include scrapping the three infrastructure projects -- the railway expansion, the flyover and the power line that cut through the Western Ghats, closing Goa’s mining industry, as well as protection of the various ecosystems in the coastal state. (ANI PHOTO.)
Key demands in the green manifesto include scrapping the three infrastructure projects -- the railway expansion, the flyover and the power line that cut through the Western Ghats, closing Goa’s mining industry, as well as protection of the various ecosystems in the coastal state. (ANI PHOTO.)
ByGerard de Souza

Eager to have their voices heard and their demands endorsed by political parties ahead of the assembly elections, Goa’s environmental activists -- a collective of several environmental campaign groups -- have released a ‘green manifesto’ demanding that political parties embrace a sustainable vision for the future of Goa.

The manifesto that was released by several groups including the Goa Heritage Action Group, Goyant Kollso Naka (No coal in Goa), the Responsible Tourism Collective, Morjim Sea Turtle Trust and others -- has sought that candidates and parties endorse “a vision of development that we citizens do want to see in Goa, grounded in local cultural, scientific and legal values”

Key demands in the manifesto include scrapping the three infrastructure projects -- the railway expansion, the flyover and the power line that cut through the Western Ghats, closing Goa’s mining industry, as well as protection of the various ecosystems in Goa including the Western Ghats forests, the coastal and wetland ecosystems as well as a demand to stop treating Goa’s thinly treed lateritic plateaus that are largely grasslands as ‘wasteland’.

“Now more than ever, with the erratic rains, floods and the pandemic, the people of Goa are well aware of how environmental degradation is taking a toll on their health and livelihood. They need to see that the people who represent them in the government will respond to these issues. Our tweet storm is a step change in this direction,” Malaika Mathew Chawla, an ecologist and a member of the team that drafted the manifesto said.

Their demands include the phasing out of bottom trawling, LED fishing and other extractive fishing practises from Goan waters that are destructive for marine ecology and results in huge bycatch of non-commercial species including turtles, to prepare specific comprehensive disaster management plans for the protection of coastal settlements and structures from the point of view of global warming and sea level rise,

Updation of the CZMP to include missing and inadequately mapped ecosystems - for eg. sand dunes, fishing ponds, sea grass beds, bird foraging areas, seaweed forests and coral reefs and to ensure that tourist activity is regulated and some beaches are allowed to retain natural vegetation and ecosystems.

Freshwater wetlands are being rapidly lost and must be identified, protected and restored. Many more freshwater bodies across the state should be notified as official wetlands under the 2017 wetland management rules such as Batim Lake and the Salvador do Mundo wetlands. Conservation of estuarine ecosystems including khazan lands and mangrove forests, as they are extremely productive and vulnerable areas (particularly to climate change). Besides the dependency on these systems for food production, climate regulation etc., Goa’s big cities and many nature-based tourism activities and associated livelihoods are situated on or around them, necessitating better planning and management of these systems.

In a dig at the Goa government for planning infrastructure projects on rocky plateaus while considering them as ‘wasteland’ the groups have demanded that Goa’s rocky outcrop habitats, grasslands, pasturelands and marshes are excluded from the Wasteland Atlas of India.

“There are a number of ignored ecosystems that are considered ‘wastelands’ for management purposes. The Wasteland Atlas of India maps these ecosystems as ‘unproductive’ land to be converted for agricultural or industrial use. However these ecosystems, such as the laterite plateaus and sand dunes of Goa are unique areas with rich flora and fauna and often crucial carbon sinks,” the manifesto reads.

Whilst classifying them as wastelands, the Goa government has planned several projects including industrial estates as well as the upcoming new International Airport in Goa at the foothills of the Western Ghats on what was once a lush grassland home to flowering species.

Besides the Green Manifesto Goa other environmental groups like the Goa Foundation has launched the Goenchi Mati (Soil of Goa) manifesto demanding that if iron ore mining is to be resumed in Goa it has to be done in a manner that benefits the people of Goa rather than the mining companies.

“The people of Goa have lost a great deal due to the manner in which Iron Ore Mining has been conducted in the state under successive Governments, over several decades. This has resulted primarily from a system in which the government, at its sole discretion, has granted mining leases to certain parties without conducting auctions or indeed without employing any kind of competitive bidding process,” Rahul Basu of the Goa Foundation that is championing the Goenchi Mati movement said.

The Goenchi Mati Movement (GMM) has advocated a different approach to mining, which would address all these issues which includes mining either directly by the state, or by parties who are granted leases through a fair and transparent auction process, which attracts a large number of bidders – thus securing high premiums; the proceeds of such mining or auctions being invested in a professionally managed fund, for perpetuity, with the real earnings of the fund being distributed annually, also in perpetuity, to the people of Goa through a dividend; and the recovery of the proceeds of illegal mining done in the past, with these amounts also being invested in the fund.

The manifesto has been endorsed in the past by the Aam Aadmi Party and currently by the Trinamool Congress.

A third manifesto termed the Citizens Manifesto has demanded that the people be consulted before any significant decisions by the government, bringing a halt to rapid urbanisation in Goa, stalling haphazard clearances for construction and coastal development shift to renewable energy etc.

“We are disappointed to see that no political party has been able to understand the needs, the vision and the legitimate rights of the land and people of Goa, for which we will struggle and succeed,” Abhijit Prabhudesai who is among those who drafted the manifesto, said.

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