By Akshat Jain, Madras School of Economics, Tamil Nadu.

Anna decided to quit her desk job in UK in 2012 and become a digital nomad permanently living in Goa. She was amazed by the sun-kissed beaches, vibrant environment and the multi-cultural society of Goa. Like Anna, thousands of foreign tourists come to the “Rome of the East” every year, seeking an experience of a lifetime. Goa has been a top tourist destination in India for both foreign as well as domestic travelers for decades. Since 2012, as per the data issued by the Department of Tourism in Goa, there has been an increase of 187% in the total number of tourists in the State. Such an exponential rise in the popularity of the State among tourists has harmed its environment and has disturbed the ecological balance. The serene beaches are now muddled with plastic and used bottles. Amid the generation of more than 7 million tonnes of waste per year, Goa has now declared a war on pollution by pledging to go plastic-free by the year 2022.

Figure 1: Exponential rise in the number of tourists (domestic and international both) in the coastal State of Goa in the last 6 years.

Impact of Tourism on Environment

Goa is going through a period of hotel boom. In the 10 years since 2008, the number of hotels has doubled with luxury hotels being the fastest-growing segment.

Figure 2: Multi-fold increase in the number of all kinds of hotels and resorts in last two decades.

Source: 1998 data: Data cited in Sukthankar, SV (2011) ‘Performance evaluation of hotel industry in Goa’

2008 data: Data cited in Patil, SS (2013) ‘A Comparative Study Of Human Resource Development Competencies Of Employees In Public Sector And Private Sector Hotels In Goa’

2018 data: Department of Tourism, Government of Goa.

Luxury hotels and resorts (share 2%) are far bigger and thus they require much larger tracts of land and end up putting more burden on local resources. Such rampant urbanization has led to severe environmental crisis leading to degrading beaches, lakes, and mangroves. The unregulated urban development and increased pollution have led to a sharp decline in the mangrove area over the last three decades- from 20,000 hectares in 1987 to 2,200 hectares in 2015. The destruction has been further aggravated by blatant and illegal mining in Goa. It shall be noted that all kinds of mining have been banned in Goa since 2018. Besides mangroves, it’s the marine life that has faced the brunt of unsustainable tourism practices in the coastal State. To maximize tourist attractions, the government promoted humpback dolphin sightings. These sightings did not follow internationally recognized standards for Whale and Dolphin Watching, which led to injury and death of numerous dolphins. A World Wide Fund India study also reported the destruction of coral reefs due to the actions of inexperienced and untrained boat operators in the sea. The State Government decided to regulate marine tourism in 2016 amid growing concerns. This has already had a positive impact on the protection of marine life.

The inefficient waste management system has created massive landfills in many cities including Panjim, the capital city. The State Government has taken an excessive amount of time in waking up to the ongoing crisis and has now initiated and amended various laws and legislations.

Tourism and Environmental Policies in Goa

Goa has come up with various legislations in the recent past to facilitate tourism and mitigate the degradation of the environment.  

Sr. No. Acts/ Rules/Policy Year Purpose
1. Registration of Tourist Trade Act (Amended 2011)  1981

For registration of persons dealing with tourists.
2. The Goa Tourist Places (Protection and Maintenance) Act 2001 To maintain tourist places, and protect them  from deterioration and erosion to preserve their tourism potential.
3. Tourism Shack Policy 2019-2022 Issue of licence to erect temporary shacks based on the expertise of the owners, from the period 1st September to 31st May.
4. Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 2018 Regulations for operations and development in coastal Areas.
5. Goa State Solar Policy 2017 Target of generating 150 MW of electricity by year 2021
6. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 Policy on direct procurement of land to set up public purposes projects on priority basis.
7. Goa Non-Biodegradable (Garbage) Control Act 1996 To prevent depositing non-biodegradable garbage in public drains, roads and places open in the public view.

Table 1: Prominent legislation for tourism and environment protection in Goa

Sources:

1. Science, Technology and Environment Department, Goa.

2. India environment portal.

The most recent and significant legislation change has been to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). The central government has diluted the provisions of CRZ, initially launched in 1991, to reap economic benefits at the cost of the environment. The latest notification allows hotels and resorts to be developed much closer to the coasts. It also promotes mangrove-walks, tree huts and nature trails in eco-sensitive zones, in the name of eco-tourism. Setting up of ports and harbors have been facilitated to support the Sagarmala Project.

The above notification from the Central Government will neutralize the recent efforts by the Goa government to promote sustainable development in the State. In addition to pledging ban of single-use plastic by 2022, the government also pledged to be a zero-waste State by 2020; the time limit has now been extended to 2024. To take care of the massive waste that the State generates, the State corporation has installed a bio-methanation plant that generates around 7000 units of electricity out of waste at Saligao village in North Goa. Awareness drives are at their peak in Goa, to save its beaches, and yet the policies have not been revamped for the conservation of its pristine coastal lines.

A Case for Sustainable Tourism

Due to better air and rail connectivity across the world, increasing income of people in developing countries and increasing penetration of social networking sites, the tourism industry now accounts for around 10% of the Gross Domestic Product of the world. International tourism reached 1.4 billion people in 2018. Locals have often blamed over-tourism for the changes in the socio-culture in their home city and also for its degradation. This has persuaded the government to impose tourist tax in various countries. Bhutan, Italy, France, Japan, Spain, Germany, Bali (Indonesia) are some of the many countries that impose a hefty tax on tourists. 

Unlike most of the countries mentioned above, it is difficult for a developing nation such as India to impose tourist tax when it is looking to increase the size of the tourism industry by multi-fold in the next decade. Instead of levying a self-inflicting tax, tourist places in India such as Goa need to promote responsible and sustainable tourism by formulating rules and legislation supporting the same. Following recommendations need to be taken into consideration by the government in this regard:

  • Promoting local culture – No rules will be effective for sustainability in tourism if the travelers are not made responsible for their acts while traveling. The State must promote its culture, cuisine, music, language, and history. It is only when a tourist realizes the relevance of a place, they will start respecting the traditions and rules within that State.
  • Getting rid of waste from the beach Amid rising garbage in the beaches, the state government recently announced hefty fines on travelers who drink alcohol or cook in public spaces. There is an urgent need to levy such fines on use of plastic bags in the beaches as well. Recently, some citizens came together with the concept of “WASTE BAR“. The bar considered waste as a currency and gave drinks and food to people in exchange of waste collected by them. Such kind of measures can be popularized by government to clean the beaches.
  • Land Acquisition Regulations need to be amended – In its original form, LARR, 2013 was drafted to discourage land acquisition. It addressed various issues that its predecessor, the 1894 Act, didn’t. The key differentiable features were compensation, consent, social impact assessment (SIA), rehabilitation and resettlement. The ordinance passed in 2014, by the new government at the Center, diluted the Act considerably. It exempted five categories of projects from fulfilling the above requirements. These categories include industrial corridors and infrastructure projects. The ambit of exemption being too wide, the original intention of the Act has now been conveniently ignored. There is an urgent need to relook into the Land Acquisition regulations.
  • CRZ Notifications need to be amended – As mentioned above, the recent notifications do not give due respect to the fragile ecosystem of Indian coastlines. Thus, all States with coasts, including Goa, need to recommend the amendment of certain regulations in the Act by taking climate change and rising sea levels into consideration.  
  • Creation of a Green Travel Pass – A new mechanism can be conceptualized for reducing the carbon footprint of domestic travelers in India. The government shall create an online travel profile for all Indians, linked with their Aadhaar card. Each time a traveler makes any travel plans, within the country, it will get updated in their profile. This profile shall contain information regarding the mode of transport used for travel, water and electricity consumption during the stay at the tourist destination, among other things. Any wasteful activity can be reported too. The aim is to give score/ratings to the customers based on their carbon footprint. An eco-friendly traveler can be given higher monetary rewards/discounts which can be encashed in government-affiliated hotels, restaurants or other services at the tourist destination itself.

Once a Portuguese establishment, Goa offers a completely different experience to its domestic and foreign travelers by virtue of its culture, community, history, and beaches. Due to stringent regulation in mining, Goa now depends heavily on tourism for growth in the economy. With the increasing per capita income of the middle class across the country, there has been a substantial rise in the tourists’ footfall in Goa. Due to the inability to adapt by the government as well as lobbying by businessmen, environmental degradation has been rampant. Today, sustainable tourism is the need of the hour so that this Konkan paradise is passed on to future generations in all its beauty and glory.