There seems to be a negative response from the fisherman community in Goa for the Blue Flag Certification as they feel that the certification process will lead to hampering their business. Goa’s pristine beaches will be soon coming under the Blue Flag Certification program as directed by The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. What is this Blue Flag Certification and how it will affect the fisherman community and other businesses set up on the Goan beaches?
The certification program is not simple and it needs to adhere to certain criteria which include the quality standard of the water, proper waste disposal management, disabled friendly, availability of first aid kits and most of the beaches in Goa does not have any or either of these implemented.
According to the reports, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has written to the states and Union Territories, asking them to identify and prioritize at least 10 beaches in their respective territories and inform the ministry by September 30 to facilitate the process of drawing up a concrete roadmap under the Blue Flag certification programme.
The ministry has directed the states that the most important criteria should be identifying a potential beach which prima facie would meet the stringent water quality parameters and that it qualifies as a safe bathing zone.
The central government has undertaken an ambitious plan for Blue Flag certification of beaches in the country and will identify 100 beaches over the next five years, with MoEF&CC as the prime agency for implementing this ambitious programme.
What is Blue Flag?
About a year and a half ago, Miramar Beach in Goa was nominated for the Blue Flag certification. But hardly any progress was made in meeting the standards required to obtain the certification.
A Blue Flag on a beach indicates that it’s a clean and accessible beach, and has good water quality as well as meets high safety standards. It also shows how authorities work to protect local shorelines and ecosystems.
In order to obtain a Blue Flag certification, there are nearly 33 criteria which must be met to qualify for a Blue Flag. The water has to meet certain quality standards, have waste disposal facilities, be disabled-friendly, and have first aid equipment and no access to pets in the main areas of the beach. These are just some of the criteria mentioned. Some are voluntary while some are compulsory.
Benefits of Blue Flag Certification.
Once certified by the ‘Foundation for Education’ agency based in Denmark, the beach will draw more tourists who will be assured the safety standards as well as facilities expected by them at a beach
If certification has been approved and granted, beaches are given qualification for a year and must apply annually to continue deserving the right to fly the flag at their locations.
The Opposition for Blue Flag Certification in Goa
Meanwhile in Goa, the move has been met with opposition. As part of the certification, a consultation was held last week, and it led to chaos and more confusion. Olencio Simoes, the general secretary of the Goenchea Raponkaracho Ekvott, an association of traditional fishermen, vehemently opposed this move stating that the beach would then be restricted to only 5-star tourists.
“This is basically copying a western model blindly and trying to impose it on Goa. In western countries, they do not have natural beaches like we do nor do they have traditional coastal communities like fishermen living along the coast. This is a move that will push us out and deny us access to the beach”, he said.
He further stated that as much as Goa needed tourism, it shouldn’t come at the cost of marine life. He also pointed out that Agonda beach ranks among the top 25 in Asia and that Goan beaches were already beautiful without human interference.
Simoes also said that the ministry has requested states to install facilities along the beach like paved paths to the waterline, a solid waste and wastewater treatment plant, toilet blocks, etc.
These structures would lead to further erosion as already 10-15 meters were already washed away in the past couple of years.
To achieve the certification of the MoEF & CC agreed to relax the coastal regulation zone norms allowing construction within 10 meters from the shore, something the fishermen have also objected to.
Sujeet Dongre of the Centre for Environment Education, which is the national agency for Blue Flag certification, said that the certification would benefit everyone though he did admit that there were misunderstandings behind the concept.
“When we say that a beach requires a specially demarcated safe swimming zone in order to qualify it means that, that space cannot be used for fishing lest the swimmers get entangled in the nets and lines. This is what has made them needlessly apprehensive,” Dongre said.
Dongre also said solutions were available and can be worked out and a clean environment would result in an increase in marine life.
Another cause for worry is that some of Goa’s beaches which have a number of shacks may be asked to reduce the number of shacks, something that shack operators may object to.
The Managing Director of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation, Nikhil Desai denied the issues raised by the people saying nobody can be denied access to the beach nor will it take away any livelihoods.
“The whole idea about the blue flag is to make the beaches more livable for a better environmentally friendly atmosphere. For that, we need a high level of compliance. This is a method of enhancing its capacity to a much higher world accepted standard,” Desai added.
A spokesperson for the Copenhagen based ‘Foundation for Education’ said that being a developing country was no hurdle for certification.
“We offer a framework where all stakeholders are part of the discussions, to find the best solutions for all of them around the sustainable use of the coastline. This includes the local fishermen, should there be any using the beaches,” Sophie Bachet Granados International Blue Flag Director said in response to an email.
The MoEF has now in a letter to the Goa Chief Secretary asked the Goa government to identify a total of ten beaches across the state that could strive for the certification. Funding for the ‘blue flag’ certification of the beaches if proposed by the Goa government will come through an upcoming phase-II of the ‘Integrated Coastal Zone Management Programme’.
Goa has already received funding of Rs 100 crore from the central government under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme which has been largely spent on making the beaches of North Goa more tourist-friendly and Rs 200 crore has been promised to the state by the central government for other tourism development.
Traditionally Goans have been environment-friendly. In a number of places, their fight for environmental protection has yielded results. Blue Flag certification too is an environmental award given to communities that make special efforts to manage their coastal or inland water environment and beaches with respect for the local environment and nature.
So far no beach in India has been given a Blue Flag certification. Obtaining one such internationally acclaimed certificate for a beach in Goa could help the state increase tourist arrivals, especially in view of the fact that a rising number of international travelers seek to visit destinations with Blue Flag certifications.
Those opposing should rethink their opposition in a fair and non-biased manner.
The state authorities, however, need to take care to protect the interests of the locals and explain the benefits and allay their fears over the limitations they could face on the use of beaches.