Goa, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, is no longer the pristine tourist paradise it once was. Rapid commercialization and illegal mining are ruining its natural beauty.
Father Bismarque Dias is one of the many people whom it pains to see the beauty of Goa go and wanted to do something about it. In the March assembly elections, he contested as an independent candidate from north Goa's Cumbharjua constituency.
"For some years now, I noticed that Goa was on the verge of destruction. Rapid commercialization of the picturesque beaches, a concrete jungle mushrooming up around old Goa and illegal mining were wreaking havoc on our ecosystem," Dias told Deutsche Welle.
"Something had to be done and done urgently," he added.
The poll results were an indicator of the peoples' frustrations and anger; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to wrest Goa from the Congress with a decisive mandate.
"At least now a beginning will be made to save our heritage sites and grand Indo-Portuguese homes. Let's see how this new government fares in checking this uncontrolled commercial expansion being done at our cost," said Frederick D'Souza, a resident of the picturesque Palolem Beach in south Goa, arguably the state's most beautiful beach.
But years of unbridled growth that saw large scale violations carried out by the real estate lobby, rapacious property "developers" and illegal miners have taken a toll on the state.
Documents placed in the state assembly recently showed that over 100,000 trees were cut in the years from 2005-11, most of it in order to make way for mining. Furthermore, 1,314 hectares land was diverted under the erstwhile Congress-led government to make way for 26 mines from 2007 to 2011.
On assuming power, the BJP's chief minister Manohar Parrikar promptly cancelled the licenses of nearly 450 iron ore traders in a bid to check extraction and export of iron ore.
"Goa's traditional mining industry was earlier dominated by a few handpicked families who controlled the business with an iron fist until the 2000's, when the infrastructure boom in China fuelled unprecedented mining in the state," Mervin Pinto, an environmental student told Deutsche Welle.
Boom time for realtors
The construction boom has also prompted businessmen and realtors from other major cities, particularly builders from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, to invest in Goa.
This, in turn, has sharply pushed up land prices. Villages now have to contend with mega housing projects and the consequences are serious and solutions a long way off. Also, the rampant construction of big buildings around heritage sites is not being carried out according to guidelines.
Experts say Goans were falling prey to the attractive sums of money and housing being offered by builders and were thus selling off their ancestral land at the drop of the hat.
"There is simply no planning. Haphazard growth is serving certain vested interests but not the broader interests of Goans or the future of Goa," says John Braganza of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, or Save Goa Campaign.
In his reckoning, builders in collusion with the political class were bending rules and in the process converting agriculture and forest land into luxury resorts and villas.
Goa attracts over a million visitors annually. They come to enjoy the gold and silver beaches and the lush greenery - or what is left of it, anyway.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning