Tourism by displacement – The Tiracol way!

Very recently, the Chairperson of Goa Toursim Development Corporation declared that those who opposed big projects in Goa must be deemed as anti-development. He was obviously referring to the opposition to the proposed monstrosity that Leading Hotels was installing in Tiracol although he named several other projects which had to be kept in abeyance owing to peoples protests.  

Earlier the Chief Minister himself endorsed the mega project in Tiracol saying it would serve the people well. All necessary permissions, he asserted, had been obtained. Audacity, you would call that! Only the day after came reports from court hearings which revealed authorizations had not been issued by all relevant competent authorities.

tiracol(1)Clearly, the notions of development held by the CM and the GTDC Chair are at sharp variance with what development is really all about. They are also very different from what the people of Tiracol, in particular, and Goa in general feels about the developments in Tiracol.  Development happens when people are directly benefited from an economic activity. It does not happen when foreign companies or, for that matter, big business from India’s metropolis, stand to be the ‘winner who takes it all’. The political class, in this instance, is reading from the wrong end of the book and has got their definitions of development all wrong.    

The reactions of the CM and the GTDC Chairman show disregard for public perceptions.  They are entitled to their opinions. But, so are the people who are the final arbiters on what the government is entitled to do. We live in a democracy and public officials are chosen to do the will of the people; not put their own interpretations on what is, and what is not development, based on their sometimes narrow perceptions and interests. They expect to swallow the pill, be it bitter or even the right one to prescribe.

Rather than argue with these esteemed leaders and their skewed understanding of development, I believe it better to get directly into the gist of why people tend to oppose mega projects. More specifically, I wish to examine how the Tiracol project under Leading Hotels will be a development debacle, if it ever gets to see the light of day.

Normally mega projects require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by a competent authority. And all too often, the authority tends to grant clearance to the developer out of compulsion, sometimes political and, on occasions, for other reasons that offer mutual benefit to the builder and the competent authority. In the case of Tiracol, a fresh EIA must now be ordered and an audit of the previous one be done. The Golf course now being envisaged in Tiracol, show it to be anti-development, contrary to the claims of the GTDC Chairperson.

A golf course, by sheer necessity demands many acres of land.  They have enormous environmental effects on ocean water quality, coastal access, beach and marine ecology, and beach erosion. It does not take rocket science to know this. Any environmentalist will tell us this. And, so will any citizen who understands environment as a matter of common sense.  

Tiracol is known to be one of those areas in the Konkan belt which is exceptionally rich in bio-diversity. If Leading Hotels finally gets to maneuver a license to build its resorts and the Golf course, it would then begin to destroy nature, and once-and-for-all deprive Goa of one of its most scenic spots. Worse, it would displace people under the pretext of providing gainful employment to the people ignoring that people in Tiracol live a contended life without having to accept a monstrosity in the form of huge buildings and a golf course. Tiracol villagers lead a much contended life as of now. Did the GTDC official in question even ask the people if they need employment of the sort that a Golf Course and resorts would offer to enhance their lives? No. They preferred to thrust it down their throats.  

For their project to take off, Leading Hotels would clear the whole area of natural vegetation and habitat. The next stage will be to grade, and plant what are often non-native grasses, trees, and shrubs. The new varieties of vegetation would require a colossal quantum of water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to maintain it. The pretty green grass one sees in golf courses is not like natural grass. It has to be nurtured and literally fussed over.  For certain, existing water resources will not suffice. This, in turn, will render the local people running helter-skelter for water to meet required irrigation needs as well as drinking and other basic needs. The Global anti-Golf Movement in studies around the world have concluded that Golf courses are another form of monoculture, where exotic soil and grass, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and weedicides, as well as machinery, are all imported to substitute for natural ecosystems.

The Global anti-golf Movement through studies has also shown “that chemical use, combined with over-irrigation causes contamination of groundwater aquifers, surface water bodies, and the ocean. Native plants and animals may be destroyed/driven out. Natural coastal dunes or other coastal features may be covered over.” Their studies also warn us that golf course owners are inclined to divert local streams thus impacting freshwater aquatic life and potentially interrupting sand supply to the beach. Worst of all, the golf course will directly or indirectly block coastal access.

A Golf course does not come alone. Its essential accompaniments are housing tracts, restaurants, shopping malls, multi-purpose dams, airports, ports, roads, bridges, mass tourism, expensive housing, entertainment facilities, export-oriented agriculture (flowers, exotic fruits and vegetables), and industrial parks/zones. Tiracol is, in this sense, a scam in the making – an SEZ making a back door entry!

Example has also shown that the bulk of the foreign exchange earned from golf courses and golf tourism does not stay in the local economy. The benefits which do remain are reaped by a handful of local business people and their patrons. The golf industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry involving multinational corporations, including construction firms, consultancies, golf equipment manufacturers, airlines, hotel chains, real estate companies, advertising and public relations firms Leading Hotels eye the profit it can make and, possibly, expatriate; not how it can serve the local need. The people are not hoodwinked by vibrant brochures and silky claims.

The environmental impacts are even more damning. These include water depletion and toxic contamination of the soil, underground water, surface water and the air. This, in turn, leads to health problems for local communities, populations downstream and even golfers, caddies and chemical sprayers in golf courses. The construction of golf courses in scenic natural sites, such as forest areas and coral islands, also results in the destruction of biodiversity. How does the government make the exaggerated claim about this being development?  

In addition to environmental damage, golf course and resort development often creates skewed land use, displacing local communities or depriving them of water and other resources. In a number of countries, the victims of such projects are subject to police or military intimidation when they protest against the destruction caused by golf courses. The bouncer is a weapon that mega-project holders tend to use to intimidate opponents of their designs. What they wield is power and, that they do, with brutality on occasions as showcased that fateful night when Leading Hotels entered Tiracol with bouncers. We have not heard a word of condemnation on that incident from the government. Minimum standards of governance would, in the last, require an inquiry.

The golf industry assertively promotes an elitist and exclusive resort lifestyle and notion of leisure and, by their nature, are an infringement on human rights. If the Government of Goa considers itself as the servant of the people; not its masters, they must choose people and nature over profits that displace people and destroy nature. They must opt to discard practices that engender corporatization of tourism. They must tell the pseudo-development economists who advise them that, rather than golf courses, we should invest in public parks, and other facilities that enhance the quality of their lives. A government with people’s welfare as the centre of planning must invest in small and medium tourism enterprises which is community based and which return profits to people rather than to the rich and avaricious.

Goa should pass urgent legislation that prohibits the advertising and promotion of golf courses and golf tourism. Tourism in Goa does not benefit local entrepreneurs because the pattern of income leakage in ‘high-end’ tourism leaves the destination with mere crumbs under the table; not a fair share of the profits.

Goa’s most loyal tourist groups were not high-end ones. But they did benefit the economy. The leaning towards high-end tourism is farcical. It aims to sideline the working classes who visit us for a holiday and mingle with the ‘real’ hosts and, in their own spaces. In place of that, Goan tourism seeks to install corporate giants from the outside with tacit support from within the government.

Clearly, the GTDC has confused development for displacement and destruction. It must go back to the drawing board with people helping to fashion the patterns of tourism best suited to the cultural specificities of Goa. Their own competence is questionable.

It is time for the entire set of tourism planners and policy makers to make way in haste for an informed and sensitive set of bureaucrats and civil society to partner in re-assessing tourism policy and practice in Goa.  

 *Ranjan Solomon is Consultant to the Centre for Responsible Tourism