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SDG 13: How iconic is the Blue Flag Certification for beaches

Around 12 beaches are contesting across India to get the Blue Flag Certification without proper consultation with the communities dependent on them for fishing to earn their livelihood. The local community organizations in Goa are deeply concerned with the Blue Flag Accreditation as they fear it is a ploy for privatization of the beaches which was turned down by former Chief Minister Manohar Parikkar. However, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change seems to be in a hurry to get the certification.

Rituja MitraRituja Mitra | Updated: 30-09-2019 17:54 IST | Created: 30-09-2019 17:38 IST
SDG 13: How iconic is the Blue Flag Certification for beaches
Rituja Mitra

Blue Flag Certification proffered by the Foundation for Environmental Education, Denmark started its pilot project in France in 1985. It is recognized as one of the world's most prestigious eco-labels awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators. According to Blue Flag Global's website, there are more than 45 countries in the Blue Flag map and it covers around 4000 beaches in Europe and Spain having the bluest flags with 506 beaches. The beaches seeking a Blue Flag Certification need to pursue on four categories of water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety.

In India, The Society for Integrated Coastal Management (SICOM) under the Integrated Coastal Area Management Programme proposed by M.S. Swaminathan is undertaking the mission to consummate the Blue Flag Certification for the Indian Beaches. Currently, India's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) seems to be in hustle in the race of selecting the beaches and getting it nominated for the Blue Flag Certification. the Centre has asked the states and the Union Territories to identify at least 10 beaches and inform MoEF & CC by September 30, 2019. The recent protest by the Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott (GRE) in Goa on September 14, 2019, made it pertinent to understand the provisions/procedure of Blue Flag Certification more closely and why it is not so good idea for India?

Context of Privatization in Blue Flag Sites

In the year 2002, One Man Committee report presented by Dr. Nandkumar Kamat to then Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, wherein the idea of privatization was struck off. Now, Marimar beach is again on the threat of privatization due to the Blue Flag Certification.

The criteria of being an applicant for Blue Flag Accreditation as mentioned in the procedure- 'any authority charged with responsibility for the beach. This may be a local municipality, private hotel, national park, or private beach operator'. Just the accredited beach must have a 'legal bathing area' and necessary facilities. The Blue flag manual duly mentions in their procedure of application that "It is 'preferable' that beach users be granted free access to a Blue Flag beach, i.e. to use the beach and its facilities without paying a fee. Blue Flag, however, recognizes that at some beaches, e.g. private beaches, members of the public are charged a small, reasonable fee to access the beach".

This creates a problem for the common property resource being converted as a private resource in the label of sustainable tourism and safety. Does the guideline fail to provide what comes under 'reasonable' fee? How will it be determined and who will fix it? Apart from the privatization, there are several other provisions in the blue flag which needs attention - one of them is fishing and communities dependent on the coasts for their livelihood.

Fishing- Yes or No?

Bharat Mukti Morcha's- Goa Unit appeals to scrap the Blue Flag Project from Miramar Beach as the livelihood of thousands of small scale fishermen will be at stake.

Criterion 5 of the guidelines states that 'the fishing in these areas will follow certain rules and regulations', but the regulations are not stated. This makes the regulation change according to the whims of the private partners, who would of course not allow customary rights of the traditional Small scale fishermen to be practised in a tourist area. Padubidri beach, a Blue Flag Site in the Udupi district of Karnataka, the management team asserted that "Blue Flag will give international standards to the beach, and also the communities near the beach will be given job, this will further enhance the economy". But they didn't take an account that most of the communities living here were traditionally small scale fishermen, they fished from Kamini River and the sea, now few will get employed as a jetty provider or as a toilet cleaner. Rest will have to determine their future!

In a conversation, a women worker hailing from the nearby fishing village in Padubidri Beach informed that she was not provided with the salary for four months. Also, the beach management, MoEF & CC and the Blue Flag Guidelines don't mention the rehabilitation of the fishing communities as most of the Blue flag areas are built-in/near fishing villages and tourism infrastructure will lead to huge displacement. The most important part of the Blue Flag Guideline which mentions that stakeholders will decide on the management, but in case of Padubidri, the tender got transferred to a Gurgaon based private company leaving no scope for the community.

Bookish Environmental Education is Important but not the Practice?

The MoEF & CC ignored a few important factors in case of Padubidri beach. It is an eco-sensitive area with Kamini river meeting the Arabian Sea had developed its ecosystem now with construction of jogging track and car parking area in these areas in order make it more 'international' and get the certification the river and sea is being destroyed by excessive concretization this will affect the natural ecosystem where the river and the sea used to meet. This contradicts with the values of the Blue Flag where they want to display environmental education and thoughts on the beaches but not practice in maintaining the ecosystem.

Not Green Washing But Of course it's Blue Washing!

Another important head of the guidelines encapsulates that "Industrial, waste-water or sewage-related discharges must not affect the beach area. This statement subtly asks the industries and the SWM systems- Do whatever you wish to do with the sea, find any other dumping area but not the Blue Flag area!

India's hurry towards getting beaches Blue Flag certification can be a forewarning. The rapid change in the coastal zone regulation notification shows that India just desires to avail the economic benefits from these programmes and other tourism-related activities. Or it can be said in the way that the government have given way to the tourism lobbies to spearhead the coasts. Till 2011, CRZ-I which was considered as most ecologically sensitive areas like mangroves, coral reefs and sand dunes, and intertidal zones. The latest notification of 2018 further categorized CRZ-1, now it allows eco-tourism activities such as mangrove walks, tree huts, nature trails, etc in eco-sensitive areas, demarcated as CRZ-IA and Blue Flag's guidelines have no provisions to look into these neither do they wish to interfere in the laws of the land.

The CRZ clearance is given only by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change or the ICZM who are proposing Green Flag's intervention in the coastal areas. And, Orissa getting the first Blue Flag certification in India could be possible after the dilution of the CRZ notification in 2018. Such will also help Blue Flag's other program to flourish like Green Key which aims in bringing 'sustainable hotels' in the tourist areas. This shows how MoEF & CC and the tourism lobbies have intertwined that the coasts cannot escape its fate.

(Rituja is currently pursuing her Masters in Development from Azim Premji University Bangalore. She is deeply interested in Sustainability and Environmental Issues. Prior to this, she has worked as a Public Relation Executive and Content Manager in several organisations)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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