Goa, primarily known as a land of sand and sun, also has some beautiful forests. Khotigao Wildlife Sanctuary in Cancona of South Goa is one of them. For centuries, this forest has been the home of hundreds of Velip tribals. Devidas Gaonkar, a Community Correspondent for Community News Service is one of them.
In recent years Goa has seen unprecedented economic growth. While the government attributes this to tourism boom, locals say a lot of the money is coming from the flourishing real estate and mining business, most of which is unplanned and illegal.
The tribals of Khotigao Wildlife Sanctuary have gained little out of these developments. In fact, several of them have lost their livelihood since the Forest Act’96 came in force which restricted the tribals’ movement inside the forest area. Adding to this, now, is building of dozens of new temples through diversion of funds allocated to develop the villages.
The temples, built by a group of people who will soon be in the board of temple trust and hence share the money donated by devotees – a big business these days- are being built inside Khotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. “There were enough number of temples already in our area. These were small shrines, very simple in structure, but for ages we worshipped there. Now suddenly they are pulling down these old temples and building big structures,” says Devidas.”
The current population of Khotigao is about 4 thousand. For such a large number of people there is only one healthcare center with just one male nurse and no doctors. There’s also no higher secondary schools. The drinking water is supplied only for 1 hour a day. Says Devidas, “In past 5 years the village panchayat has spent 11 lakhs, which is 50% of it’s total budget, only on building new temples. With that money we could have schools, better water supply system and better health care”, says Devidas.
But who are these builders? And where is the money coming from?
“They are from the local panchayat and the money that they spend are actually for village development. But temples are not going to develop our villages. Some of these temples which are complete, host fairs and other events. Makeshift shops come up during these events and money paid by them going to the temple trust. The trust also collects a lot of donations. The temples use loudspeakers. So we , the forest people have no development, but just noise and pollution.”
Today, as the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, Devidas , is going to voice his communities’ Unheard stories such as this. Press Freedom in Goa, that day, will go community way.