MUCH like several other major projects in Goa, the Tiracol golf course project has attracted opposition from social activists. As the government is not only the facilitator of development but also a protector of the livelihoods of Goan people, they must revisit all the issues raised by the social activists. A fine distinction must be made however between the interests of the NGO ‘directors’ and the interests of the local people. Some NGO ‘directors’ intervene everywhere and have not been known to support any project. At the same time, several projects opposed by them are allowed by them to come up, they restricting themselves to occasional rhetoric but not going all out to stop them operating. Sometimes you can clearly notice ‘pick and choose’.
That said, we all agree that Goa’s land and ecology cannot take load beyond a certain point. Large industries are not feasible in the state. Polluting industries should never be allowed. But what about the projects that are permissible within the limitations of the land and are non-polluting? A golf course was proposed in more than one place in the state. Various entrepreneurs have tried in the past to set up a golf course. The state government has been overly willing to have a golf course or two in the state. The idea behind is to increase the number of high-spending tourists coming to the state. Goa has been largely stuck with budget tourists. Nobody grudges that, but the state needs to receive a fair share of up-market tourists to change its profile vis-à-vis some of the higher-rated international beach destinations. More high-spending tourists would also mean more income to the local service providers.
Seen in this background, the golf course project at Tiracol should be seen as a good value addition to Goa’s tourism. Many Southeast Asian countries have added value to tourism by adding golf courses among their attractions. If the social activists are opposing the project for opposition sake, the government must not allow them to stall it. But the government would not know that unless it dispassionately and objectively examines the issues raised by them. The issues relate to the lawfulness of the land transfer, the threat to the agricultural fields of local farmers, the fear of water guzzling by the golf course leaving little for locals and the damages to the local ecology. The social activists say parts of the acquired land belong to the tenants. The government must get the title/titles of the land/lands acquired by the project promoter examined to identify if the land has been sold by the bhatkar without the concurrence of the tenants which is required under the law; or if no tenants existed on the records. If tenants existed, the bhatkar must share with them the capital gains he made from the sale of land to the promoter.
Then there is the issue of under-pricing by the promoter. It is alleged that the promoter approached individual village households to buy their pieces of land. Some families agreed to sell their land to the promoter who paid them at varying rates, from Rs 120 per square metre to Rs 500 per square metre. Social activists accuse the promoter of taking advantage of the simplicity and ignorance about market rates of the land owners. Although the government has no role to play in a deal between two private parties – in this case, the project promoter and the small land owner – they need to make an inquiry if the promoter paid low rates for the same type of land for which they paid high rates in the vicinity or the village. If the promoter paid lesser to some, they must make it up by paying the difference of the high and low rates to them.
Apart from injustice to individual land owners, the opposition to the project is also being made on grounds that it will be detrimental to the local eco-systems. Now, there are two types of ecological damage: one is reversible, the other irreversible. The opponents say that the environment impact assessment report prepared by the company’s own consultant listed about 2,000 trees for felling in the making of the project. The question that needs to be examined is whether felling of 2,000 of the 19,000 trees existing on the land will cause irreversible damage to the ecology. Could not so many or more trees be planted to make up for the loss? Another major issue is depletion of groundwater as golf courses have traditionally been known to be water guzzlers. But now technologies are available to keep water use by a golf course within limits. The promoter has to prove they have such a technology.