Exploring new vistas

Published : Dec 17, 2004 00:00 IST

At the Bom Jesus Basilica during the opening of the exposition of the remains of Saint Francis Xavier. - ARKO DATTA/REUTERS

At the Bom Jesus Basilica during the opening of the exposition of the remains of Saint Francis Xavier. - ARKO DATTA/REUTERS

THE very mention of Goa brings to mind sunny beaches and the accompanying fun. Tourism in Goa has been concentrated on the Calangute-Baga beach belt in north Goa and the Colva-Benaulim beach belt in south Goa.

But the beaches alone do not give an accurate picture of Goa. There is much more to be explored and exploited - thick evergreen forests, wildlife sanctuaries, beautiful churches and temples, sprawling heritage structures, rock carvings and much more.

This is what Goa Tourism Minister Matanhy Saldanha specifically intends to focus on. A teacher by profession, Saldanha has led several struggles on social and environmental issues since 1974. He is the founder and Chairman of the National Fish Workers Forum - a body of traditional fishermen - and a member of the International Collective of Fish Workers and their Supporters.

Saldanha joined the government just four months ago, but he has already made his mark by regulating different activities connected to the tourism industry. Speaking to Frontline, Saldanha said there had been no regulation of water sports and shacks on the beaches. Stating that the government gave prominence to "safe tourism", the Minister said the first thing he did was to demarcate zones clearly for water sport, swimming and shacks. In addition, the number of lifeguards on beaches had been increased, and the help of the "tourism police" had been taken for the safety of tourists, he added.

Maintenance of cleanliness in tourism locations has also been his priority. While the Tourism Department has appointed a number of contractors for cleaning the beaches, it has also roped in local bodies and the student community to keep the surroundings clean. "If there is cleanliness, the tourism industry will flourish," he said.

Elaborating on his plans, Saldanha said that an important one was to set up a water sports facility in the hitherto underdeveloped Pernem region in north Goa, which had some of the most spectacular beaches in the country. He said the facility would be set up within a year by the government. Also, an amusement park would come up in the State in the private sector.

Saldanha said it was equally important to identify and form new tourism circuits. He noted that the hinterland in Goa had beautiful scenery but had remained unexploited owing to lack of initiative. The government was also making efforts to explore the potential of the Dudhsagar Falls, the Bondla, Bhagavan Mahaveer and Cotigao wildlife sanctuaries, and the Buddhist cave carvings at Revona and Arvale.

Another ambitious project launched by his department is "heritage tourism", wherein the government helps to restore heritage houses and convert them into centres of hospitality. Heritage tourism in Goa would involve the owners of the properties, he said. "There are a lot of palatial houses (around 4,500) in the State, which are in a state of decay owing to the inability of the owners to maintain them properly," he said. The Minister said he was in favour of offering a tax holiday for the heritage industry for a fixed period of time. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has promised a package to the owners of such heritage houses, which could include financial grants with subsidy as well as low rates of interest. Saldanha said the scheme would be launched soon.

The Tourism Department expects around 35 lakh tourists during this calendar year for two special reasons - the 35th International Film Festival of India (November 29 to December 9) and the Exposition of the sacred relics of the 16th Century saint, Francis Xavier, at Old Goa (November 21 to January 2, 2005).

Saldanha said the government had spent about Rs.40 crores on upgrading infrastructure for the Exposition, including the construction of a 10-kilometre bypass road between National Highways 17 and 4A (connecting Ponda, Belgaum and Hubli). This could perhaps be the first time that devotees offered obeisance to the saint without being disturbed by the heavy traffic on NH 4A, which passed through the Old Goa complex, he said.

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