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Goa Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai was forced to retract his sweeping indictment of all North Indians, after he called domestic tourists “scum of the earth” at a business festival in the state. Speaking with some vehemence, Sardesai cautioned against those who were trying to recreate Haryana in Goa. “If you compare Goans to rest of India, we are high in per capita income, social and political consciousness, we are much superior to the people coming in. How will you control them, can you control them?” asked Sardesai. The context was Goa’s tourism woes and its insurmountable problems, of oil spills and vanishing paddy fields.
Sardesai’s impassioned speech, full of loathing for North Indians and what they’re doing to Goa, conjures a picture of an invasion of dodgy khap panchayats, and black SUV driving opportunists. While it would have been better left unsaid, the North Indian takeover and how that influence is destroying a way of life, is a view privately held by most Goans. Imagine, if you have been fortunate enough to call this paradise the land of your ancestors. For generations, you have traversed lush green, empty, winding roads, living off the land, supported a little by charter jets full of Britishers that have been plying since the 1960’s. You have coexisted happily with international tourists who appreciate this pristine swath of land and its affordable pleasures, imbibing European values along the way. Then, affluent India wakes up to Goa’s enchantments and decides it works as an alternative to their crumbling cities. That’s exactly when the deterioration begins.
In the last decade, quaint villages that have shimmered in shades of green and where the pace of life has stayed unchanged for centuries, are overflowing with garbage. Goans, relegated to being natives in the background, have watched in utter helplessness as lush hillsides have been decimated for construction with impunity, empowered by a profitable nexus of real estate speculators and pliant officials. When Sardesai claims that Goans are more socially conscious than the rest of India, it’s completely true that it’s a relatively safer, non-judgemental environment. That’s why it’s the coming of age holiday destination for kids passing out of Delhi schools and the place where every successful professional wants a holiday home.
Tragically, Goa remains the only place in India where a woman can enter a restaurant alone, order a beer and not be stared at. Unfortunately, it’s precisely this cosmopolitanism that has contributed to its ruin. Rich Indians love Goa for the simple reason that it doesn’t feel like India. One would imagine more effort would have been made to preserve this inherent sophistication but alas, there was money to be made. It’s not fair to just blame the investors or ravers, who have turned Goa into a perpetual psychedelic party. Successive governments have failed to check land policies that have created this squalor.
Goa’s fate as a future, mini big city, is however, sealed. Big city living in India has become soul destroying with people spending an average of 95 minutes a day commuting. In the last ten years, a new breed of pollution refugees have emerged, people who actually can no longer continue to inhale industrial strength smog in Delhi and Mumbai. Anybody with any options is searching for a more meaningful way to live. Goa, with its palm-fringed beaches and colourful nightlife is the only viable solution, one that provides the perks of a city without most of the stress. Mr Sardesai better brace for what’s coming. A younger generation of Delhiites is no longer viewing Goa simply as a destination to party in. It’s where they want to live.