Miramar as Metaphor

When the destruction of the coastline from Campal to Carazalem continues to happen, GCZMA is asleep.


The formerly pristine sand stretch perfectly encapsulates the wider destruction of Goa

No place in Goa better encapsulates the state’s despoiled, criminally squandered realities than the formerly pristine arc of sands stretching from Campal to Caranzalem. An iconic location and cultural lodestone, this is where tens of thousands gather to hear the legislative election results. Miramar is a magnet for locals and tourists alike. It is Panaji’s most vital lung for fresh air and cool ocean breezes, and also ancient gateway to the fabled port upriver. Here the Arabian Seameets the Mandovi/Mhadei, the taproot of Goan identity.

But walk the timeless vista any evening towards sunset, and only degradation comes to mind. Garbage is strewn everywhere and the river water distinctly stinks of sewage. Tourist boats blaring Bollywood music churn right onto the sands, disgorging crowds of the lowest-value tourists, who are taking advantage of ultra-cheap quick spins around the bay. There’s zero infrastructure, so lines of (inevitably Indian) men head straight to the vegetation to urinate. Vendors now sell snacks and bottled water right near the waterline, all the debris is dumped directly underfoot. Touts lead throngs to trample over the last precious patches of green.

Just above the sands, is another glaring symbol of the gross fraudulence perpetrated in plain sight in Goa today. The perfectly adequate (very recently re-tarred), tree-lined and scenic road connecting Gaspar Dias to Dona Paula was egregiously dug up almost three years ago, ostensibly to concretize and complete within a few months. But deadline after deadline passed, and the alleged improvement is still nowhere near complete. Now it’s clear nothing promised (international-standard bike-lanes, a generation of durability) will ever be delivered. Meanwhile, the project cost has soared to Rs100 crores.

Cross further to fill your eyes with more unavoidable reminders of Goa gone awry. There is rampant real estate construction, which has taken over the sea-facing precincts of Taleigao and Caranzalem. Here are unbroken ranks of apartment complexes built right on top of fields, wetlands, inlets and drainage channels. Where rainwater once streamed directly to the ocean, now it sits stagnant. Sewage constantly overflows into the drinking supply, because all the new construction is slapdash and unregulated and there are no adequate treatment plans. All the wells that served these areas are irredeemably contaminated. Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are increasingly common.

Back to the waterline, where it takes only a few minutes to note much else has gone terribly wrong. Vast swathes of sand are blackened with discharge from ships far at sea, and also from the rapidly proliferating rash of dirt-cheap Miramar tour boats. Piles of jellyfish are washed ashore, an inescapable indication of oxygen depletion in the ocean, itself a direct result of sewage dumping. The National Institute of Oceanography has repeatedly warned all that coastal waters of the state are unsafe because of municipal dumping of wastes. But there are individual culprits too: a pipe leading out from the Marriott has stained the sand with effluent, right down to the sea.
There are many parts to the Miramar problem. But all lead to the inexorable conclusion underlying every other major predicament that besets Goa. It is comprehensive failure of governance, compounded by free-for-all lawlessness. There is impunity for everyone, from the architects of “infrastructure improvement” scams to the “make money while the sun shines” irresponsible real estate developers to the cheap-tour boat operators who blast music past every legal level, and hand over plastic bottles to their clients who then throw them straight into the water. There are no penalties for destroying vegetation, or using the bushes as a giant open-air toilet, or for littering anywhere and everywhere.

 In any other major tourism destination in the world, everyone up to the chief minister would lose their jobs for what has happened to Miramar. But in Goa there are no consequences. Captain of Ports gave permission for cheap-tour boats to ply right off the beach without any concern for adequate infrastructure, toilets, garbage, preservation of the last patches of green. The tourism department actively encourages the least-value tourists to visit Miramar, with zero planning or facilities that could alleviate their disproportionately high impact. The magnates whose real estate and hospitality facilities exist parasitically off Miramar’s natural resources actively destroy, instead of enhance or improve.
 Just like the canary in a coal mine, the choking demise of the once-magnificent Miramar beach indicates a doleful reckoning facing the entirety of Goa. Person for person, Panaji is one of the richest and best educated cities in the entire subcontinent. It is home to a stream of the highest profile national cultural events, which calendar kicks off with this month’s International Film Festival of India. With that profile, with all its advantages, if this city cannot protect its environment’s crown jewel from shameful ruination, there is no hope for any other place in the state.
The writer is a photographer and widely published columnist