BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
The waters were serene. The beach shacks along the Candolim-Calangute coastline were empty.
Most owners of the shack looked lost as they grappled to understand the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court judgment necessitating the closure of shacks operating without consent from the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB).
‘I used to come with tea for my parents without slippers on this beach. I used to go to school wrapping my books in a plastic bag and without shoes. This beach was and is my home. I do not understand why the government is trying to harass me?’ asks Menino Silveira, a shack owner.
‘We elect a government to do our work and not to get harassed. We started out poor on the beach, and now that we are earning something, we are being hounded out. It looks like the rich in the Goa Assembly have no need of us anymore,’ says Menino, as he gazes at the forlorn sea.
With the High Court judgment being applicable to every shack, the owners waited on Wednesday for an inspection from the officials from GSPCB, which began in the morning, starting from Baga. By late evening, it was known that ten shacks were operating without the necessary consent from GSPCB.
‘A few had not paid the GSPCB fees, but I think most have paid up by today. In a way, this was a wakeup call, but I would have understood if they had decided to charge the fee from next season, as we do not expect any more business now,’ says Rosario while lamenting the departure of foreign tourists.
‘They are supposed to come and check whether we have toilets and where water is released. We are supposed to collect our wet waste and dispose of it at home. But, the problem is, how do we take the waste home when there are no roads on which we can drive?’ questions Livramenta, who like most others has been in the shack business for ages.
Apart from the beach shacks being empty, the beach beds are vacant, and most owners claim the season has been down since the beginning of March.
‘We rely on foreigners for business. They come to us because they get to know Goa throughout the time we spend with them in our shack,’ reflects Benjy, who has been working for years on the beach.
‘Nowadays, we have Indian tourists who bring their own booze and want to sit in our shack till late in the night. These are the type of guests that we are not looking for. We prefer to close early rather than to manage their drunken brawls,’ says Rosario, as he keeps an eye to see whether the GSPCB officials are arriving.
‘When the Indian tourist first started to come to Goa, they wanted to see foreign tourists. Now they want our beach, and it will not be too long before they start having their own MLA,’ complains Menino.
The PIL that led to the High Court judgment, according to many shack owners, was because of a lapse by one shack owner. They wonder why all of them have to pay. This confounding attitude has led many to believe that there is more than what meets the eye and it is the intention of someone in the government to allot shacks to outsiders.
‘The idea is to lease shacks to outsiders and earn big bucks. But, they do not understand that foreigners come to get a taste of Goa, which no outsider can give anyone. We may have been born poor, but we were not born foolish,’ says Menino without mincing words.
‘I was informed by my son that there was a message on Whatsapp this morning that we cannot have more than ten tables in our shack. What is this rubbish? How are we expected to pay our staff and make money with such rules in place,’ asks another lady running a shack, on condition of anonymity.
‘I have a toilet for the guests, and I have a disposal system for water. But my question is, why doesn’t the government provide a sewerage system for us when we are paying fees,’ questions Apollo, as he saunters to a chair with his staff all around the shack.
‘The inspectors will come, will check and will go, and, in a few days, they will present their report to the High Court. It would be far better if they had prepared a report on how we could be helped, how our problems could be mitigated because of the slow start to the season,’ avers Menino.
As the sun sets, a sprinkling of tourists can be seen visiting a few shacks for sundowners. The movement is slow, but the indomitability of the shack owners – whatever the hurdles – is not hazed by dusk. The GSPCB inspectors came and went. Life for Goans managing beach shacks on the beach will continue as usual.