Bad news dogs Goa's picture-perfect Vagator beach (Environment Feature)

Panaji Vagator, one of Goa's more picturesque beaches and a stunning backdrop for Bollywood cult classics like "Dil Chahta Hai", is in the news for the wrong reason.

After an attempt by the state tourism authorities to lease 53,000 sq mts of beach-side government-owned land to two New Delhi-based corporate players created a stir, an order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directing the authorities to demolish illegal structures in the coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) in the same property has caused further embarrassment to the Goa tourism ministry.

Sources in the tourism department claim that the decision to allow a private player to create a "model tourism and entertainment zone" along the relatively less-frequented beach was taken because of the increasing interest shown by music promoters who are keen to use it as a destination for international music festivals.

"There are not too many people who live in the vicinity of the Vagator beach, unlike Baga and Calangute. These facilities will help promote such festivals with minimum hassle to the public," a senior tourism official told IANS. Last year, Vagator hosted the Sunburn music festival, an event which has traditionally been organised at the Candolim beach.

Unlike the electric and buzzing Baga, Candolim and Calangute beaches, which attract the bulk of Goa's three million tourists, Vagator beach, crested with the Chapora fort, is a relatively quieter experience.

Located 25 km from Panaji, the beach and the historic Chapora fort, overlooking the sea and sand, has served as a backdrop for a host of Bollywood films from "Gumnam" to "Khamoshi" to "Dil Chahta Hai".

The attempts to liven up what Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) general manager Sanjay Chodnekar describes as a "dead beach" have met with opposition from local residents Girish Gaonkar and Pradeep Harmalkar, who had petitioned the NGT to crack down on the CRZ violations in the leased property.

"They had built an illegal concrete wall and a building and were construction steps in the CRZ zone," Harmalkar said, adding that the order by Justices V.R. Kingaonkar and Ajay A. Deshpande had directed the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) to execute the demolition.

"The compliance report shall be submitted within three weeks. Else, we will be constrained to take appropriate penal action against the member-secretary of the GCZMA by drawing the presumption that he has certain reasons to protect mischief-mongers," the NGT order further says.

Illegal coastal constructions are a matter of regular controversy in Goa, with several hospitality projects attracting litigation across the state's 100-km-long coastline. Less than a month ago the Panaji bench of the Bombay High Court ordered the demolition of the Grand Hyatt, a five-star hotel, for violating coastal construction regulations.

According to Chodnekar, the move to lease the land to a private party at Rs.70 lakh annually was aimed at upping the ante for sourcing "quality tourists" to this part of the coast.

"The beach had become notorious for illegal activities. We have received complaints of groups of tourists loitering in the area, consuming alcohol and using drugs as the beach is very desolate," he told reporters recently.

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