A Fine Balance

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Both government and people must protect coastal environment

THE Goa government has been asked by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to finalize its coastal zone management plan (CZMP) by the end of this year. The plan has already been delayed for a long time. As the old CZMP is in place the state government needs to assure the people that approvals for any development in the coastal zone have not been given that could come in conflict with the new CZMP. Coastal zones need a very conscious and delicate balancing between human activities and protection of the environment. As far as the basic premises of coastal zone protection are concerned, even the old CZMP was prepared keeping them in view. The sea level is rising due to global warming. Human activities have to be prohibited in the coastal zone to add to the factors like automobile pollution that are accentuating global warming. There has to be a clear demarcation of ecologically important and sensitive areas. Mangroves, mudflats and sand dunes have to be protected or revived where they are being eroded or have been lost in order to rebuild the marine ecosystems. Breeding grounds have to be provided for endangered marine species.

 The coastal zone in Goa has come under severe pressure owing primarily to the growth of tourism. Goans who lived near the coast, no matter which occupation they traditionally pursued, saw opportunities of good earnings and respectable life in tourism businesses and almost all of the families moved into it. Over the years, thousands of others came from other parts of Goa or India to set up tourism-related businesses for a better life. Mass migrations to the coastal areas meant increasing inconsiderate demands from the ecosystems. The occupational activities of Goans, such as fisherfolk, who lived by the coast had never caused any ecological imbalance in the past, because what they took from the environment did not cause depletion or erosion. But when mass migrations happened the balance came first under threat, and then it was gone.

For, there was effective coastal governance. The elected representatives in the panchayats and the officials of various government departments often were unaware of the damages being caused or colluded with the forces causing them. They might plead in their defence that till recently there was no clear demarcation of prohibited and permissible activities. At the same time they cannot escape responsibility and culpability in not stopping prohibited activities and not regulating permissible activities after the coastal zone regulations came into force. If there is severe degradation of marine and coastal environments the blame has to go to the government and the panchayats.

Of course, it is not only the story of the Goan coast. The degradation of coastal environments is taking place the world over. Every country has framed regulations to protect ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes and coral reefs. UN organisations are working with all governments to raise public awareness with the message that the marine and coastal ecosystems are losing their ability to provide the fundamental services upon which human well-being depends. They say provision of shelter and food for juvenile fish species, which often thrive across mangrove, seagrass and coral reef habitats is one crucial example of such fundamental services upon which human well-being depends. Goans too need to be aware that healthy marine and coastal environments are important for the supply of the seafood they love.

Goa’s new CZMP will be finalised after a virtual public hearing. The state government must organise the public hearing with transparency, so that the state gets a CZMP that strikes a balance between facilitating tourism and protecting coastlines. It is true that all blame for the degradation in the coastal environment cannot be laid upon the door of the politicians. Everybody gives preference to one’s own interest. At the same time it is true that everybody takes liberties with the coastal environment because politicians do so. The state government is a coalition that depends for its survival on a number of parties and individuals. The leader of the government often looks the other way when someone from the ruling camp transgresses permissible limits of development in the coastal zone. Unless that stops, the new CZMP is unlikely to prove more effective than the old one.