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2018 The year of living dangerously

2018 The year of living dangerously

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12 Jan 2018 No comment 14 hits

Just a few days into the New Year, and it is already clear this is a critical juncture for Goa. Ever since the new millennium dawned nearly 20 years ago, India's smallest state has been buffeted by powerful changes but still managed to retain a recognisable quotient of its natural wealth, character, integrity and identity. All that is now at risk, as a perfect storm of outside pressures, internal crises, and deeply cynical governance has become entrenched with devastating effects on society, culture and environment. None of this is sustainable. We are at the point of no return. History won't be kind to the generation in power as it presides over the rampant destruction of its own heritage.
Even as dawn broke on the coastline on the first day of 2018, evidence was everywhere that tourism has gone fatally wrong. Garbage was strewn in an unbroken blanket from the northernmost beaches of Pernem down to the remotest stretches of Canacona. At Miramar, revellers left mounds of trash right down to the waterline. At both Colva and Calangute, hundreds of domestic tourists used the sands as toilets.

Goa was devastated to realise the latest threat to its ecological lifeline of the Mhadei river basin. This comes in the purportedly magnanimous offer to divert water to the drought-affected parts of Karnataka "on humanitarian grounds". This politically motivated "generosity" is on extremely shaky legal grounds, and will most probably never happen. But the brazenness of the idea itself set alarm bells ringing in the minds of the state electorate.

Two hugely unpopular and unnecessary infrastructure projects pose a particularly grave existential threat to Goa and Goans. The so-called "coal hub", touted by the cabinet, is backed by three big corporations, each of which is guilty of environmental violations in multiple locations around the world.

In Goa, civil society is just as outraged about the coal plans, but here the government seems determined to ignore the bad track record of all parties involved, including the MPT. There is a similar single-minded focus on the egregious "second airport" project at Mopa, which is being rammed through despite crudely falsified environmental impact assessment reports, as well as the oft-repeated canard: "Dabolim will stay open". That "promise" is exactly like "the casinos will soon move out of the Mandovi river" repeated ad infinitum for 3 years, to the point it is not even funny.

There are positive trends in Goa, which deserve to be built upon. There are many star performers in every sector of the economy to put the state on the national and international map. The state's students are doing better than ever before by every national standard. Compared to the rest of the country, citizens here still enjoy a remarkably blessed quality of life, and high index of human development, along with relatively high levels of safety and security accompanied by communal harmony that still has a lot to teach the rest of the country.

But all of that is the legacy of previous generations, and the collective wisdom of forbears who toiled to burnish their birthright. That heritage is now in the hands of a largely shameless, short-sighted and irresponsible cadre of political and economic elites, who themselves pose the greatest threat that the state has ever experienced. From water to land to the air itself, everything is being degraded at a rapid pace.

Remember that 13 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in India. This is the writing on the wall for Goa, unless 2018 brings a change.

The writer is a photographer and widely published columnist. Views expressed are personal.


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