Killing them softly

This article I wrote last year for the Goa based newspaper, ‘The Navhind Times,’ after visiting a waterfall in Goa during monsoon. The crowd, chaos and the worst garbage which was lined all along with forest trail made me to write this piece. The revelers who come here to ‘enjoy’ the nature are in turn abusing the nature. These waterfalls, a major source of water for our forests and for us are reduced to picnic spots, to indulge in alcohol and bring in all adverse effects of ‘eco-tourism.’ Hopefully, this year at least people realize what they are destroying when they are actually enjoying

Garbage lying around the Savri waterfall. Pic by Vipul Rege

Most young professionals wait for the weekend, especially the Sunday to arrive. It is their day to unwind, enjoy and have fun. So, what will be the ideal way for these youngsters to have some ‘fun’ time? Most answers include heading to an exotic waterfall which comes alive during the monsoon season; have a shower there, scream and shout and then relax yourself with a can of beer in your hand; and have some food served in disposable plastic plates, and in the evening come back, all sloshed.
But they also leave their telltale signs of enjoyment by littering that pristine waterfall with all used cans, beer bottles, chips packets, non-biodegradable plates, plastic bottles and the like.
Sadly this is the reality of almost all the waterfalls of Goa. You name it, and you will witness this litter which is scattered all around the waterfall, under the trees, flowing into the stream. Here, nobody is accountable, you are free to litter the place as these waterfalls belong to everyone and thus to no one.
Waterfalls are not just wonders of nature which comes alive in monsoon; there are more than that. “Waterfalls in themselves are unique ecosystems. An array of micro fauna to mega fauna are sustained by them. Besides being sources of fresh water, they are also examples of nature’s exquisite beauty,” says herpetologist Nirmal Kulkarni.
But, these beauties are slowly dying. The one reason being the habitat destruction, but now such attitude of revelers is adding to the problem.

Garbage lying on way to Hivre waterfall. Pic by Arti Das

But, these beauties are slowly dying. The one reason being the habitat destruction, but now such attitude of revelers is adding to the problem. Chandrakant Shinde, president of Vivekananda Environment Awareness Brigade (VEAB) says: “In the last 17 years I have visited almost all the waterfalls of Goa and I can actually see them dying. Around 10 years ago there were very few engaged in trekking, but, now there is a trend that the best way to have fun is to visit to a waterfall and drink. The whole concept of enjoyment among youth has changed now. Now when we conduct waterfall treks, we start collecting garbage. The last time, at Hivre waterfall we collected 72 bags of litter. We do not realise that these waterfalls are the source of our water. I think people will realise when the Forest Department will completely ban the entry to waterfalls,” says Shinde.

The litter created there not only kills the beauty of the place, but it also creates irreversible damage to ecology. “Any area that has litter– plastic and broken glass has already been irreversibly impacted. Goans though need to think whether it is right on their part to pollute their own drinking resources in the name of enjoyment and merry making,” says Kulkarni.

Hivre waterfall draws such crowd on any Sunday. Pic by Arti Das

These days the three waterfalls which are probably worst affected are—Pal waterfall, Hivre and Charvane; they are said to fall in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The Pal waterfall is easily accessible, even by bike. Thus one can see many youngsters flocking to this place on a bike with crate full of beer bottles, food, which they drag all the way to the waterfall. The scene at the waterfall is not only disheartening but also scary. Here people while drinking, take a dip in the water body, thus risking their life as the chances of drowning go higher when you are drunk. But often, no one is bothered as everyone is literally soaked in water and alcohol.

Durgadas Parab of Eco Treks Goa who recently conducted a trek to Pal and Hivre waterfalls says: “There should be a permanent solution to this problem. When I interacted with the two forest guards at Hivre waterfall, they told me that they have to manage all these three waterfalls—Hivre, Charvane and Pal. Just imagine their plight! Also, it may take an hour to physically reach these falls. How can just two guards manage such crowds as there may be thousands of people? And after they are drunk they are in no mood to listen to anyone. Looks like this kind of promotion of eco-tourism is killing our forests, as our beaches are already killed.” Due to the drunken behaviour of people and too much of trash littered, Parab restrains from conducting monsoon treks to waterfalls. “How can you allow people to walk in with alcohol in reserved forests?” asks Parab.

This scenario directly indicates that there is no sense of belonging to these places. “These people have no right to dirty these places. It is a very selfish and inhuman attitude. They are spoiling everything that nature provides us. Why is there a need to drink if you want to enjoy?” says teacher and trekker Ramita Gurav.  She tells us: “Last time when we conducted a trek with our students, some of them voluntarily brought banana leaves (which are biodegradable) to use as plates. This shows that some students are serious about this issue. Also on August 15 we will be conducting spring cleaning at Assagao.”

Waste management expert and trekker Clinton Vaz states that the amount of garbage created by revelers is just staggering. He narrates an incident where he had gone to enjoy the serene beauty of the waterfall, but ended cleaning up that place. “Once my friends and I had gone to a waterfall called Carvota at Loutolim, the amount of garbage was staggering. So, we started cleaning that place. The bags which we carried to collect waste was not enough. A few villagers came to our help with more bags. The amount of garbage was so much that we found it difficult to carry it back. Now, I heard that the villagers have banned people from entering this waterfall,” says Vaz. He further adds: “There is no regulation on the amount of non-biodegradable stuff which is allowed in these forest areas. There should be an effective system in place by Forest Department along with Tourism Department to collect and segregate this waste first, as most of it is recyclable. Also at some of these waterfalls come under wildlife sanctuaries, so there is a need for stringent measures as you have to pay a fee to enter these places. One solution could be fine these revelers heavily,” says Vaz.

He suggests that if we continue to litter such places then we may have to ban people from going to these waterfalls and open only a few for people to enjoy. He also hinted at regularising the number of trekking groups. “Now there are too many groups organising treks almost on every Sunday. There is a need to regulate them and make it mandatory that they have to take back the garbage which they create. The government organisations like GTDC (Goa Tourism Development Corporation) is conducting treks to such unknown places and in turn people become aware about such places and later they venture on their own and may destroy that place,” says Vaz.

Alcohol cans lying around Bamunbudo waterfall at Canacona. This pic was taken this year, July 2017. Pic by Dhruv Lolayekar

Authorities speak
When contacted by NT NETWORK, Deputy Conservator of Forests, (wild life and eco tourism), North Goa, Anil Kumar stated that the Forest Department is taking utmost care to clean these areas. “We clean these waterfall areas which come under wildlife sanctuaries, every Sunday and Monday. The collected waste is segregated and sent for recycling. If the approach route is littered with waste is not our responsibility,” says Kumar.
He also confirmed that the guards at these waterfalls do check if anyone is carrying liquor. But, he laments that most of the time with the help of villagers these revelers take liquor to these falls as there are many approach routes known. He also confirmed that the department is not short staff and the guards are capable of doing their duties. He also added that it is not the responsibility of only the Forest Department but also of Goa Police and Excise Department to check on alcohol consumption in forest areas.
“Most of the times people who are involved in such activities are Goans, who require more convincing. We need to create more awareness and sensitise people at the Panchayat level,” says Kumar.
He also commented that the treks organised by the trekking groups have a responsible approach. “The trekkers who are part of these groups tend to listen to their leaders who make them aware about garbage and don’t allow drinking.”
He appeals that all the trekkers/revelers should take their garbage back or at least dump it in the nearby dustbins. The sources in the GTDC reveal that they take in consideration all the guidelines: “We charge high fees, so it filters the number of people. Also we have professionals like doctors or experts in wildlife attending our treks. We stopped giving packed lunch as it creates waste. We tell people to bring their water bottles and also state in our press notes that we don’t allow alcohol. There are people who like to have a glass of beer after the trek. But, they are not from our group. To curb this problem there should be more vigilance by the authorities.”
Many-a-times people suggest that the authorities should provide dustbins and hoardings at the entry points to curb this problem. But, many trekkers believe that it is not the permanent solution.
“A few years ago we had placed one hoarding at Netravali near a waterfall saying ‘not to litter’, ‘take your garbage back,’ etc. After few days when we went there again, the board was demolished and was filled with abusive words. This is the attitude of the people,” says Shinde.
Bianca Dias of Offtrail Adventures believes that placing of dustbins is going against the principal of not littering in wildlife areas. “In a forest area, you are supposed to bring back your waste. Keeping of dustbins not only kills the aesthetics of that place but also adds on to the garbage as most of the times this garbage is not collected. Also having this garbage around will hamper the wildlife especially broken glasses, plastic, etc.”

In the name of eco-tourism

Sack full of garbage lying around Bamunbudo waterfall at Canacona. This pic was taken this year, July 2017. Pic by Dhruv Lolayekar

Goa is predominantly known as beach destination. But, to give more than beaches to tourists the Tourism Department opened our forests under the name of ecotourism.
But, many believe that the norms of eco-tourism are not properly in place. “The definition of eco tourism itself is clearly defined. Anything that does not fit in that definition is just tourism,” says Kulkarni. Also people need to be sensitised when they enter the forest areas. “The hinterland or eco tourism should not happen till the systems are not in a place as it will end up in a mess,” says president Goa Bird Conservation Network (GBCN), Parag Rangnekar.
Bianca opines that it is the responsibility of the authorities that our forests are preserved. “Nowadays the number of people visiting waterfalls is really large. There is a need to control it. Also when you are going for a trek, it is a trek and not a picnic. Now under the name of eco-tourism there are flat trails put up near waterfalls. It not only makes going to waterfalls more accessible but also kills the real essence of a trek. One visits these places to enjoy the quiet environment and to be with nature, but now you will see only groups of people at such places, who scream, shout and create havoc,” says Bianca.
She suggests following a system like in Karnataka where you are not allowed in the wildlife areas without a guide. “In Karnataka you need to hire a guide because it is the guide’s responsibility of the safety of the people and also to check that no one is dumping garbage. We can start a similar system and also have a time limit as we see many times people venture into the forests at late afternoon,” says Bianca.
Due to this attitude serious trekkers do not reveal about a few waterfalls which are not so popular. They believe that by this action they may be able to save the pristine ones. “Many a times my non-Goan friends say that there are only beaches in Goa. So, to make them aware I put pictures of waterfalls on social media to tell them that Goa is more than beaches. But, I never disclose the name or location of these falls. Many a times I get calls from city dwellers asking me details about waterfalls, but I restrain from telling,” says Shinde.
Bianca follows the similar practice and conducts treks for only a few people who are serious about trekking and wildlife. “We have already killed the Savri waterfall with a flat trail and now Dudhsagar waterfall is closed for trekkers,” says Bianca.

There is no alternative to awareness

There’s need to conserve the pristine beauty. Pic by Vipul Rege

Kulkarni says: “The need of the hour is awareness at grassroots level. Enforcement alone to conserve the area around waterfalls has not been really successful as people are in no mood to listen whilst ‘enjoying’ at a waterfall. I think there has to be a massive media driven focus and long term campaign alongside enforcement. Together it will bring about change.”
Parag says: “For short-term solution there is a need for a little bit of policing. But, for long term, education and awareness is the only solution.”
Shinde informs that every year on August 15 to create awareness about garbage menace VEAB along with Keri Kumbhar Samaj conducts a cleanliness drive at Chorla Ghat.
“We try to clean as much as possible. Last year we collected tempo load of garbage. But, this is not the solution. We need to create awareness about our ecology among children and youth before it is too late,” says Shinde.

This article was first published on The Navhind Times, Panorama on August 14, 2016.

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