Panaji: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call on Independence Day to make a ‘Clean India’ by 2019 may have struck a chord with the Indian masses, but on the ground in Goa not many are willing to buy the BJP-led coalition government’s repeated promises of making the tourist state garbage-free by the end of next year.
Goa, one of the world’s most popular beach tourism destinations, does not have a single efficiently functioning solid waste management plant. The only one worth its name at Sonsoddo, in South Goa, is plagued by breakdowns and mismanagement, resulting in ugly garbage heaps of varying sizes lining the state’s main arterial roads, parks, playgrounds and open spaces – and, most importantly, its beaches.
Augusto Xavier, a Goan living in Germany, heads the Indo-German Friendship Society and has been taking up the issue of solid waste management with the state government for several years now. He blames corruption for the lack of headway in over a decade and a half.
“We need a very rational medium and long-term plan to clean up Goa. Once a plan is chosen it should be first discussed with the public and some improvements could be made. After that, it should be implemented even if there is a change of government. Unfortunately, corruption is hindering the implementation of a medium and long-term plan to clean up Goa,” Xavier said on the phone from Germany.
It was supposedly to draw up such a long-term solution that the government sent a legislators’ delegation to Germany and Italy last year to study solid waste management systems there.
But whether any lessons were learnt during the junket, which also included a ride in Venice’s famed gondolas on the city’s Grand Canal, is anybody’s guess.
Ranjan Solomon, a consultant with the Centre for Responsible Tourism, an NGO backed by Goa’s Roman Catholic Church, fears the worst.
“They did not go to learn garbage management. They went on a jolly trip. Why has no report been tabled as yet? And why did they go? Don’t they know that there are enough Goans who have solutions in hand? The trip was a literal theft of taxpayers’ money,” an angry Solomon said.
Solomon pitches for responsible tourism, a principle which is getting increasingly irrelevant even as Goa, an infrastructure-deficit state, aims for higher arrivals every year. Over the last 12 months, three million tourists visited Goa, which is double the state’s population of 1.5 million. But power outages, water shortage in coastal areas, contamination of groundwater with sewage in the tourism-savvy beach belt, congested roads and, of course, the omnipresent heaps of garbage indicate that mass tourism is seeing Goa bursting at its seams.
Anne Claire Ketteringham from Britain, who has been visiting Goa regularly since 2008, said that the “garbage problem has increased, particularly in certain areas with denser population like the tourist belts, though not exclusively” and very little is being done to alleviate the problem.
“One big stumbling block seems to be the inability to identify large enough sites to set up treatment plants, one of which was to be near Old Goa, but this, it seems, has been opposed by the local people,” she said .
She is not entirely wrong. The Goa Church has opposed setting up of the garbage plant in Banguinim which is in close proximity of the Old Goa church complex, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The complex dates back several centuries and is located 10 km from stte capital Panaji.
Despite the all-round gloom, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is optimistic and has promised that Goa will be garbage-free by December 19, 2015, Goa Liberation Day. In the 2012 state assembly campaign manifesto, the BJP had promised a short-term solution to garbage handling within six months.
Still, all’s not lost. The government passed a law during the ongoing monsoon session of the assembly imposing a fine of up to Rs. 25,000 ($410) and/or imprisonment for non-segregation of garbage in municipal areas.
Jack Sukhija, of the Goa Heritage Action Group, advocated a more holistic approach to tackling the problem.
“There is general apathy to lack of cleanliness and the belief that it is the government’s problem. Added to this is a political, bureaucratic and educational leadership which panders to this apathy by refusing to implement or make laws which will punish public littering,” Sukhija said.