The government relented to pressure from the shack owners and finally rolled back the licence restrictions putting an age bracket of 18 to 60 years. The decision means shack owners above 60 can apply under the new policy. The tourism department has explained that the move was initiated to ensure the youth’s transition into this business from their older generation.
While the decision to roll back the restriction is welcome, the change the tourism department envisaged is intriguing if the objective was to find a family successor to the shack business. Firstly, to arrive at such a conclusion, the pre-requisite would be comprehensive data indicating the unemployed youth in shack owners’ families and whether they are genuinely interested in pursuing the shack business. It appeared that there was a concerted move to keep out the majority of the traditional shack owners under the ‘successor’ jargon. The motive does not match the language the tourism department has been talking about, nor does it justify the change. Debarring those above 60 from shack licences and allowing a new generation of operators to take over are logically different arguments.
If the department is genuinely keen on protecting traditional shack owners, it must tighten protocols to eradicate subletting to ‘outsiders’ completely. Under the current regime, despite the penalties prescribed in the rules, there are no deterrents set, and several operators continue to sublet, giving a different flavour to the business.
Interestingly, the department has put the onus on respective village panchayats to treat the sewage generated by the shacks. The panchayats are required to have their mechanisms in place to take care of the sewage generated by shacks in their jurisdiction. This issue has been stoking controversy for the past several years, and several shacks were sealed after it was found that sewage was being released in illegal soak pits and some in the open sea.
The decision to shift responsibility to panchayats is surprising because of issues faced by local bodies themselves. While Panchayats along Candolim, Calangute and Baga tackled the sewage in their jurisdiction, other panchayats don’t have the wherewithal to deal with the sewage generated even in their own backyard. Panchayats who do not have the logistical support to handle sewage will be helpless.
In the absence of a proper mechanism, several shacks have been violating rules and digging illegal soak pits and bore wells. The proposal of installing a portable sewage treatment plant remains elusive, and the cost of installing green toilets is high. Moreover, direct road access to shacks is going to throw challenges of a different kind.
While the cabinet has cleared the shack policy, there are a lot of grey areas left unattended that need to be addressed by authorities. Operating beyond permissible hours, violating noise regulations, violating stipulations on beach beds and maintaining hygiene are some segments that have been consistently ignored; call it problem areas or errors of omission and commission.
Instead of showing concern for the kin of shack operators or traditional shack owners, there are more serious that need to be addressed. If the focus is streamlining the shack business, the tourism department still has miles to go.