Dudhsagar waterfall is officially open for the season, but sadly, this year too, the forest department has no plan in place to ensure the no-plastic policy at this major forest tourist attraction of Goa which roughly attracts 1,500 people every day.
Goa Tourism Development Corporation flagged off the jeep tours to the waterfall on October 12, 2023. The jeep rides, or safaris as they are known, start from Collem and take tourists through the forest via a bumpy route of roughly 45 minutes.
Besides the gorgeous waterfall which lies at some distance from where the ride ends, people experience the thrill of riding through the forest that is part of the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.
While local operators are hoping for a good season, a major concern of garbage within the forest, is never addressed and cleanliness is lacking.
One jeep carries six to seven people. If one takes an average of 200 trips per day with seven people per jeep, 1,400 people visit the waterfall daily. This means roughly 42,000 people visit the waterfall in a month.
At this rate, by May 31, 2024, there will be around 1,36,000 people who would have visited the waterfall. Taking into account this number, one has to wake up to the quantum of garbage generated, especially given that the forest department does not discourage people from taking plastic water bottles and packed eatable items into the forest, despite knowing that national parks, reserves and sanctuaries are meant to be plastic-free zones.
GTDC Chairman Ganesh Gaonkar has urged the jeep operators to look after the welfare of the tourists they ferry to the waterfall, but failed to address the issue of garbage created by them.
Joseph Barreto, who runs Jungle Book Resort at Collem, claimed that the forest department neither has any garbage management plan in place nor does it discourage the use of mineral water bottles inside the forest.
Barreto said that considering the fact that the waterfall is in a forested area of the Western Ghats, plastic bottles should not be allowed, but, sadly, that was not happening. He claimed that the garbage collected is piled up and kept in the forest.
The forest department then picks up the waste and hands it over it for recycling, when, as a matter of fact, a forest area has to remain plastic-free.
Range Forest Officer N D Prabhuesai admits that forests are plastic-free zones and has impressed upon the government to come out with a policy in this direction.
Naturalist Parag Rangnekar feels that plastic of any form can’t be allowed at Dudhsgar waterfall, it being in a forest area, and that the forest department has to work out a system to discourage people from taking mineral water bottles into the forest.
He suggests that the forest department will have to work with the jeep safari association and local stakeholders to see how it can stop plastics from entering the forest or ensure that cleanliness is maintained.
Rangnekar feels that till such time the government releases a policy, forest department can take a deposit of money against every plastic item that is taken into the forest and return it when the items are brought back at the forest gate.
Plastic menace is not restricted to Dudhsagar alone, it can be seen at almost all tourism spots within the wildlife sanctuaries. It’s time those in the government wake up and say no to plastics to save our forests and the animals living within from the harm caused by this menace.