Goa can attract more tourists if it is absolutely clean. The irony so far has been that tourism growth has added to the state’s generation of waste and pollution. Tourist arrivals in Goa stood at over 63 lakh in 2016 as against only 7.75 lakh in the mid-1980s when tourism picked up in the state.
Domestic and foreign tourist arrivals make up more than four times the total population of the state. Various stakeholders have benefitted from the tourism boom; however, the state has also been affected by higher pollution as a result. Tourism growth has led to heavy demand on the infrastructure and the tourist spots, causing environment problems on the beaches and other tourist spots. Lack of civic sense among most tourists makes them indifferent to pollution of the places they visit. Recently the managing director of Goa Tourism Development Corporation Nikhil Desai said that tourism was the most polluting industry in the world. He said that emphasis would be laid on ecological sustainability in the state tourism master plan which is under preparation.
Tourism has emerged as a major contributor to the state economy. The emphasis in the master plan is going to be on further growth of the sector, which may mean more pollution if effective measures are not taken to manage it. According to the World Tourism Organization, tourists crossing international borders reached over 1 billion a year for the first time last year. There are projections that the number of international visitors would reach 1.8 billion by 2030. Goa too would be a beneficiary of the increased number of international tourists.
The government has to check the factors in tourism infrastructure contributing to pollution. Are there adequate facilities to take care of the waste generated in tourist spots? The state has been facing a variety of challenges in providing adequate facilities for waste management in the towns and villages. Heaps of dry and wet waste are found along roads in several parts of Goa. Not all beaches are clean and certainly not all the time. The lack of cleanliness encourages tourists to dump waste along the roads and on the beaches. Among domestic tourists there are those that come as a group by buses and do their own cooking by the shore or elsewhere. They leave their waste at the spot. Though the government has banned such practices the rule has not been enforced strictly.
The state government will have to deal with both the preventive and collection aspects of waste. Tourism has meant an unplanned growth in the number of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels catering to tourists. Although there are rules and guidelines for the shops and establishments to deal with their waste, these are followed more in the breach than in compliance. Cesspools and waste mounds can be seen in the back or on the sides of many of the restaurants. We have not yet found a sound and satisfactory solution to the problem of management of waste generated by shacks.
In the past few years, beach cleaning has been played as a cat and mouse game between the ruling camp and the opposition. The Lokayukta had to intervene to pull the curtains on the farce. Till now we do not have an effective, professional system in place for beach cleaning. Solid waste management continues to be a most challenging issue in the coastal belt. The amount of waste generated owing to proliferation of tourism-related businesses is very high. The Saligao waste management plant is making a major intervention in this regard, but much more needs to be done.
Accountability has to be fixed. The panchayats in the coastal belts of North Goa and South Goa have a major responsibility in managing waste. They have been given funds and other support by the government for setting up waste collection systems. The panchayats collect taxes from shops and establishments as well as individual houses; it is their job to give a clean environment to them. The shops and establishments and houses that do not comply with rules of sanitation and public hygiene should be penalized and made to comply with them. The waste generated by one shop or establishment or house might not be much, but if the waste of all of them is added the volume becomes big. The state government has been trying to take tourism to hinterland. But that could mean more of waste generation and less of waste management.
Let us hope the issue of pollution the GTDC MD Nikhil Desai has raised is effectively dealt with by the government through planning and execution of schemes for waste management. The aim should be to keep Goa clean and green in order to maximize benefit from consistent growth in tourism.