Panaji, Feb 18 (IANS) A walk on the Sinquerim beach may be what Bollywood heart-throb Lara Dutta and tennis pro Mahesh Bhupathi look forward to after their wedding here Saturday. But that may not be possible because the beach itself has practically disappeared thanks to a grounded cargo vessel.
However, the celebrity wedding at the Taj holiday village resort has provided Goa’s environmental activists an opportunity to once again bring up the issue of the massive beach erosion caused by the grounding of M.V. River Princess on the nearby Candolim beach in 2000.
Successive state governments have failed to salvage and tow the vessel, which, like a huge mythical ogre, has virtually gobbled up a sizeable section of one of the most prized stretches of sand in Goa, from Baga beach to Sinquerim.
The beach stretch has the biggest concentration of resorts and night clubs anywhere in Goa and sees lakhs of tourists soaking up the sun and the nightlife during the October-March season.
According to Fermino Fernandes, convernor of the River Princess Hatao Manch (RPHM), which has been leading the agitation to remove the beached vessel, the Lara-Mahesh wedding might just be the best time to highlight the issue of beach erosion, which is assuming serious proportions in Goa, whose economy significantly feasts on beach tourism.
“We will use the Lara Dutta (and Mahesh Bhupathi) wedding to get the attention of the country to the River Princess issue,” Fermino told IANS.
Fermino also said that he would lobby with the national media representatives, who are in Goa to cover the wedding to take note of the issue of beach erosion too.
“We will try our best to get the national media to focus on the River Princess. They only have to swing their cameras a little bit from the wedding venue to the boat, which is there for more than 10 years only because the government does not care,” he said.
Several entertainment television crews are camped outside the resort since Friday morning, when both Lara and Mahesh arrived for the ceremony.
Sylvester D’Costa, who lets out rooms to tourists in the slightly upscale Candolim-Sinquerim beach belt, said the issue had not caught the attention of the central government and the star wedding might be a great inflection point.
“For nearly 11 years now, the government has completely failed to drag the River Princess away. She has gobbled up the beach. Our livelihood has been affected by the erosion. Without beaches how can we have beach tourism. This is the best chance now,” D’Costa (45) said.
According to data compiled by the state government and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), a central government marine science agency, the phenomenon of beach erosion is grimly staring at seven beaches in Goa, with Sinquerim, being the most affected.
“In all, 21 stretches which are spread over a length of 11.22 km (coastal area) have been affected,” says the state’s Water Resources minister Filipe Neri Rodrigues. The 21 stretches include famous beaches like Sinquerium, Coco beach, Tiracol beach, Candolim beach in North Goa and Betalbatim beach, Arosim beach in South Goa.
A recent statement by the NIO says that more than 1.1 sq km of the beach in the vicinity of the River Princess has already eroded because of the change in sand pattern effected due to the presence of the large ship for a long period of time.
The M.V. River Princess, which was anchored at the nearby Mormugao Port, was swept away in a storm in 2000 and grounded on the beach. It was being operated at the time by a firm owned by mining magnate and a state legislator Anil Salgaonkar.