Goa's Tourist Boom Backfires With an Ugly Smell

By Frederick Noronha

GOA, India, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - Once glad of the livelihood tourism brought them, the villagers of Calangute, in the former Portuguese colony of Goa, are fed up with the pollution and uncontrolled sewage that accompany the foreign hordes.

Calangute was at the center of Goa's tourism boom which began in the mid-1960s when hippies came and decided to stay. Now the village receives thousands of Western charter tourists, mostly from the United Kingdom.

construction

Buildings have sprung up near agricultural areas, leaving farmers little incentive to grow crops. Spiralling real estate rates have pushed many into building hotels on former agricultural land. (Photos by Frederick Noronha)
Many are housed in so-called "rent back" apartments - holiday units built during a tourist boom in the 1990s for those wanting a home in this once fashionable beach area, but now rented out to tourists through middle men.

Rent backs were originally sold to people from other Indian cities. The single bedroom apartments measuring between 50 to 58 square meters were relatively cheap at around Rs 500,000 (US$10,718 now, or about US$15,000 in the mid-1990s).

In the last five years, builders or owners have rented back these huge blocks and converted them into resorts for charter tourists.

Since the infrastructure was meant to be purely residential, most rent backs did not include adequate plans for sewage treatment facilities. As business started to grow to accommodate the influx of low budget tourists, Calangute's neighborhoods began to choke on their own sewage.

"In the last season, some tourists from Britain got seven to 10 day holidays for as little as a ludicrous 79 pounds sterling," local campaigner Antonio D'Souza. "This includes bed and breakfast plus a return ticket."

D'Souza says rent backs simply cannot cope with the sewage generated. "I can get the whiff from my own house whenever sewage is released," adds D'Souza, who is pressing authorities to deal with the problem.

"This letter was written just to stop me from going to the courts," says D'Souza, brandishing a copy of one official document.

D'Souza filed a Right to Information petition with local authorities. He wanted to check how much revenue local authorities receive from rent back resorts. He claims his access to the information was denied.

Of India's 28 provinces, home to a billion people, Goa is one of the few that has a Right to Information law. It grants citizens the right to see official information. D'Souza is bitter because authorities want villagers to pay a higher house tax.

He says rent backs create noise pollution through daily music shows, and produce mountains of garbage, most of it plastic.

"Our problem is that sewage is dumped into traditional storm drains," says Anthony Simoes, a Goan born engineer turned environmental campaigner.

"They believed foreigners would come and spend lavishly. But they got the riff raff. Today, rent backs have failed, and all the spin offs are negative," argues Simoes.

The council in Calangute is on record as telling some resorts that they are guilty of having "discharged/disposed sewage from the septic tank... causing a foul smell to the residents of the ward."

But to cut corners and save rupees, some resorts simply dump their sewage into nearby drains, particularly during the three month monsoons.

construction

Sewage waste from the North Goa beach belt dumped in nearby villages, being studied by waste campaigner Deepika D'Souza.
"Lifting the sewage would cost them something," says Simoes. "Installing an effluent treatment plant would be more expensive. So the cheap way out is just to dump it in the storm drains."

D'Souza and others claim that local politicians are influenced by resort owners and tourism dollars. They claim that action is not taken on complaints, official figures about resort operations are kept secret, and local bodies are evasive when it comes to legal action against them.

Recently, Calangute's Catholic parish priest Father Jose Dias published a signed article in the parish bulletin, pointing out how swimming pools in the area are not only water guzzlers but are contaminating the groundwater.

"It is a matter of prestige and gain for a hotel to own its own swimming pool," said Dias. "In some villages like Calangute one can find four to five swimming pools within a radius of 200 meters."

Dias cautioned villagers that chemicals pumped into each pool could pollute groundwater. These chemicals include activated carbon and chlorine dioxide to control taste and odor; calcium hypochlorite, chlorine and sodium hypochlorite for disinfection; sodium bicarbonate for the PH adjustment, potassium permanganate for oxidation of impurities; copper sulphate and copper oxide for algae control; and bistributyl tin oxide for algal and fungal control.

Villagers counted 48 swimming pools scattered across Calangute-Baga, which till the early 1980s was just a small fishing village of about 5,000 people. "This study was done some time back. There could be more now," Dias told ENS.

In the late 1990s, Goa University researcher Dr. Joe D'Souza and student Divinia Gonsalves collected groundwater samples from wells adjacent to hotels in Calangute.

Their physico-chemical and chemical and microbiological analysis indicated "an excessive load of enteric pathogens, thus establishing the non-potability of the water."

"Unscientific growth of tourism in Calangute has resulted in most hotels releasing effluents into soakpits and drainage systems which are often clogged beyond their capacity," said the scientists.

Some resorts are taking steps to alleviate the problem. One known as the Kamats has installed its own effluent treatment plant.

The local panchayat - a council of village elders - has ordered other resorts to install effluent treatment plants "of an adequate capacity" and seek approval from the Goa State Pollution Control Board.

"Failing this, your licence to run the resort/hotel shall be suspended or cancelled under Sections 69, 70 and 71 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act of 1993," warned the panchayat.

Whether these warnings are effective is anyone's guess. In the 1960s, famed Goan singer Lorna sang paeans of praise to the "Calangute breeze." Today, for some of Calangute's residents, that breeze stinks.