The Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT)and SOWS say: It is our belief that the small, medium hotels and guesthouses put back 90 per cent of their revenues into the local economy; not the 5-star hotels whose contribution to the local economy is only ten per cent. And yet, the yardstick for everybody is that shacks, taxi drivers, the small, medium hotels and guesthouses are there to be trashed.

July 29-August 4, 2013
Lionel Messias

Known for their don’t give a hoot attitude and matching lifestyles, Goa beach shack owners have forever been sitting ducks for the local media.  “Shack attack” as an English daily rather colourfully titled its cover story last week as it tried to show the shacks in bad light for not dismantling their temporary shacks as required during the off-season, was a classic example.  Shack owners say the story was in actual fact a shark attack on them, notwithstanding the truth that the shack owner in question did bend the rules.  “But in Goa’s 5-star hotel and real estate industry, who doesn’t, and look how blatant they are?  Do we harm the environment like they do, cut up entire hillsides or build well beyond the approved plans?”  You can’t argue that.  In truth interviewing shack owners can be taxing because you are always pointed in the direction of those who abuse Goa’s beaches the most, and there’s a whole list of them.  After one newspaper wrote about the glass shards on some beaches, thrown there by drunken domestic tourists, there was no follow up story.

Big hotels breaking environmental protection laws are reported by the media only if the information is spoon-fed by the Goa Pollution Control Board or Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority which in any case are always watered-down versions.  Within that rather restricted ambit, a 5-star infringement is strictly verboten (forbidden).  In other words, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is the order of business when it comes to big hotels.

Beginning this week in a three-part series, Goanspirit will attempt to put things in perspective, with a slight bias of course for the underdog, because this is what we stand for always.

Good son, Bad son

Clearly the English media sees no evil in offences like this. The Leela Kempinski of Hotel Leela Venure Ltd, a 5-star hotel at Mobor, Cavelossim which applied for and got an NOC from the Tourism Department to erect a temporary shack in private property for the tourist season (2009-10), did not dismantle its shack as required by the rules after May 31, 2010. The Leela succeeded in getting a certificate (no. VP/CAV/2011-2012/645 dated October 29, 2011) signed by the Cavelossim village panchayat sarpanch Edwin Barreto declaring this: This is to certify that the seasonal shack erected by the Leela for the year 2010-2011 has been dismantled as per clause of the N0C granted by this office for 2010-2011. This certificate is issued as the request of Manohar Raut, in order to produce to Tourism Dept (sic). The sham was repeated the following year (2011-12), this time with the help of a new sarpanch Viola Costa (letter no. VP/CAV/2012-13/550 dated September 28, 2012). The shack called Susegado was set up in 2009-10 according to the Shack Owners Welfare Society (SOWS) president Cruz Cardozo and has never been dismantled since then even once.

The peoples' beach shacks may break the rule in isolation, but shacks run by the mighty 5-star hotels do so in permanency. Other instances of this blatant law breaking is the The Lobster shack owned by a 5-star hotel in Benaulim, one in Cansaulim and another in Varca. When the Tourism Department inspected the shack after SOWS sent it a written complaint, its officials were confronted by the Leela's GM who claimed Susegado (the shack) had been in existence for 20 years and that he didn't care about the complaint. Goanspirit has a copy of a letter (no. 7/5 (3) Pvt. Shack/10-11/DT/2178 dated October 26, 2010) addressed to The Leela Kempinski by the director of tourism Swapnil Naik which exposes the nexus between the Tourism Department and big hotels. The relevant part reads says: in view of the apology from Manohar Raut, authorized signatory, for the high handed behavior of the GM, a lenient view is taken. Also Leela being an important hotel erecting the shack before issuing NoC is condoned. Clearly, the Tourism Department chose to break it own rule to protect The Leela and since it saw no evil in the VP conniving with the hotel, it spoke no evil of it.

Children of a Lesser God

Their story could be described as David versus Goliath but in a brawl for space on Goa's beaches, unlike the mythical battle when David could slay Goliath with a slingshot. Because of their comparative sizes the description suits both sides - the 5-star hotels imaginatively made out by the industry and government to be the modern day giant warrior, carrying all of Goa's tourism industry on its broad shoulders; therefore deserving respect and much latitude to break the law. David, the perennial thorn in the flesh that somehow must be tolerated but strictly denied any liberties. The Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT), under the Council for Social Justice and Peace and SOWS say: It is our belief and understanding that the small, medium hotels and guesthouses put back 90 per cent of their revenues into the local economy; not the 5-star hotels whose contribution to the local economy is only ten per cent. And yet, the yardstick for everybody, not only the media, is that shacks, taxi drivers, the small, medium hotels and guesthouses are there to be trashed, and it does not merit an excuse.

A small hotel can have less than six rooms, a medium sized hotel between six to 35 rooms, and guesthouses with one and up to three rooms. A hotel like The Leela buys even its linen from outside Goa and repatriates all of its profits to its holding company which again is outside Goa. This is a thumb rule for all the 5-star hotels. Plainly speaking, Goa does not even get to have their bank accounts. To this list add resorts owned by hotel chains and resorts built by funds earned on the black money market.

Russian Roulette

According to the bulky contractual document shack owners must sign with the Tourism Department a shack owner must not be employed gainfully anywhere, neither must his wife and family be. The SOWS says this could mean that an entire entrepreneur family could stay in penury indefinitely. Something both the shack and guesthouse community does not take too well considering it pioneered the tourism industry in the seventies when there were an estimated 100 shacks serving Goa's first foreign tourists.  What does a family dependent on the shack business do for a livelihood if it does not win a lottery for several years? This lottery system involving people is unprecedented.

(To be continued next week)