Biodiversity in Goa

1.0 Introduction

The term biodiversity is used to describe the huge variety of life on this
planet. An astonishing 1.8 million different species have been identified and
named by tribals, peasants and scientists. Yet we still do not really know how
many diverse species there are in the world.

We know that there are about 8,600 species of birds, 4,000 species of mammals
and 32,000 species of flowering plants because these organisms are relatively
well studied. However, there is still uncertainty about other organisms such
as insects (where estimates vary from eight million to a hundred million), fungi
(where 70,000 have been identified but 1.6 million are thought to exist) and
little-studied organisms such as bacteria, nematode worms and mites. There are
at least eight million species on our planet, and probably a lot more, so those
who identify, name and classify organisms still have a lot of work to do. One
of the greatest challenges for the new millenium is to increase our knowledge
of the organisms with which we share this planet.

There are three aspects of biodiversity:

  • The variety of habitats (environments) in which living organisms live
  • The number of species
  • The variation within each species

1.1 Why preserve biodiversity?

This diversity holds together life on Earth. The green plants on land and microscopic
plants in the oceans produce the oxygen we breathe. Global climate change would
be far worse if it were not for the role of forests and oceans in absorbing
much of the carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere. Mangrove forests
hold tropical coastlines together. Each individual species depends upon others
for its existence and the links between different species hold life together.
If one species is removed then the others that depend upon it will also either
die or be seriously affected.

Some species are particularly important because without them their whole ecosystem
will collapse. For example, forest trees and ocean plankton, which control our
climate, are often little valued by people, but their role in controlling our
environment is the single most important aspect of biodiversity.
A second reason for protecting biodiversity is because human beings are dependent
upon it. We depend on biodiversity for our food, medicines, shelter, for many
industrial products such as wood and rubber, cosmetics and many other products.
As we lose species, we are also losing potential new medicines and foods that
may be needed to continue human life on Earth. For example, over half of our
medicines come originally from plants, and new ones are still being discovered.
A recent example is the anti-cancer drug, taxol, from the bark of the Pacific
yew tree.

A third reason for preserving biodiversity is ethical. Is it right for people
to destroy so much of Nature’s creation?
Fourthly, we should preserve biodiversity purely for beauty and enjoyment. It
would be a dull world without the flowers and songbirds around us, or the whales
in the sea or the magnificent animals in the sanctuaries and national parks.

1.2 Brief background to the SAP

The subject of this report is the status, conservation and sustainable use
of biodiversity in the state of Goa, one of the smallest states of the Indian
Union. Goa presents an astonishing diversity of endemic species, habitats and
ecosystems. For historical reasons, the region remained relatively ‘undeveloped’
till fairly recently, and therefore appears to have suffered less from the grosser
forms of environmental damage almost routinely associated with development elsewhere.
But with 40 years of ‘development’ now behind it, the impact of intensified
economic activities on biodiversity in this region is visibly noticeable and

Concern with biodiversity has crystallized world-wide with the adoption of
what is known as the Biodiversity Convention. Tragically, the growing awareness
of its significance for the survival of all living beings on the planet is coinciding
with a very real and threatening reduction in biodiversity indices across the
world. Biodiversity, at its simplest, means the diversity of all living beings
in the world. All over the world, neglect of biodiversity concerns has led to
situations in which the astonishing variety of life is being permanently and
adversely compromised.

The impetus for this work on the biodiversity of Goa came from the National
Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). One of the heartening features
of the NBSAP has been its serious effort not to remain at the level of a government
exercise. In fact, in Goa, NGOs, individual scientists and professionals individually
committed to biodiversity conservation have provided critical direction to the
process, with the cooperation of government departments. The Goa Foundation,
an environmental NGO, and the Forest Department, Government of Goa, were the
nodal agencies for the preparation and implementation of the Goa Strategy and
Action Plan (SAP). As part of the process, a number of individuals, not affiliated
formally with NGOs or formal research/teaching institutions, were also encouraged
to play an active part in the process.

1.3 Scope of the SAP

The scope of the Goa State BSAP was expanded to assess the status of biodiversity
from a number of different levels and a variety of perspectives.

1. Biomes, Ecosystems and Habitats: Goa is under the influence of two
global biomes – the marine biome of the Arabian sea and the terrestrial forest
biome of the Western Ghats. Within this geographical canvas are a wide range
of ecosystems and habitats e.g. forests, ghats, alluvial plains, coasts, rivers,
estuaries, mangroves, wetlands etc. The ecophysiology of the habitats is governed
by complex ecological and metereological conditions. There are normal habitats
and extreme habitats (like the rock pools and the salt pans). There are microhabitats
which are equally important – e.g. the termite mounds which play a significant
role in the decomposition of plant litter. The status of biodiversity in each
of these habitats varies, depending naturally on a variety of genetic and environmental
factors. Each habitat faces its own peculiar mix of pressures on its biodiversity,
and consequently, different strategies for conservation are called for. A proper
understanding of these habitats and ecosystems is therefore essential for the
conservation of their biodiversity.

2. Species and varieties: Although incomplete, an exhaustive listing
of species has been done from the available published and unpublished sources
(see Annexure 6).

3. Agro ecosystems: There has been specific focus on the biodiversity
of agricultural ecosystems. We have studied the centuries-old system of the
khazans, puran sheti and other traditional methods of farming, fishing practices
etc. Within this area, we have tried to highlight issues relating to cultivars
or varieties of various agricultural crops.

4. Ecotheology: This report also examines those practices and beliefs
relating to nature which have an impact on biodiversity and its sustainable
use. The process of preparation of the action plan was based on an intensive
study of indigenous knowledge, and whether such use of biodiversity was in itself

5. Impacts of Human Activities on Biodiversity: We support development.
However, we found we could question the necessity for continuing with the present
form of development which necessarily requires the destruction of biodiversity,
or is based on its unsustainable exploitation. Hence, we thought it necessary
to catalogue all those processes and forces associated with development agendas
that threatened or destroyed biodiversity in new, unforeseen and thoughtless
ways in the State.

1.4 Objectives

The principal objectives of the Goa State BSAP are:

  1. To document, assess and review the present status of the biodiversity of
    Goa at ecosystem and species level.
  2. To understand, document and popularise time-tested (sustainable) natural
    resource management practices and the rich ecotheological traditions of the
    people of this region.
  3. To study the causes for the decline of traditional knowledge, and to evolve
    mechanisms to reverse this trend with the aid of the community, and to protect,
    strengthen and disseminate this knowledge.
  4. To study the impact of human activity and development generally on biodiversity.
  5. To understand the causes of biodiversity degradation, identify the hotspots
    of biodiversity erosion and to work out ways to combat these.
  6. To prioritise the choice of ecosystems, species and habitats for directing
    conservation efforts and to lobby for the maintenance of gene pools in labs
    and in fields.
  7. To study the legal and administrative framework governing biodiversity
    and suggest methods for strengthening it.
  8. To work out implementable mechanisms for conserving the biodiversity of
    Goa, with active participation of all stakeholders, including the public,
    NGOs, government etc. so as to mitigate the worst kind of excesses meted out
    to biodiversity in the past 40 years.
  9. Increase the awareness of the importance of biodiversity, and disseminate
    the knowledge regarding the same, among the public at large.
  10. To encourage new initiatives in biodiversity research and promote scientific
    research for full cataloguing of the biodiversity of the state, ensure its
    sustainable utilisation and to protect the biointellectual property rights
    of the local communities.

1.5 Guiding Principles

The principles which have guided the work on the Goa State BSAP are:

  1. A healthy respect for traditional knowledge (including oral) regarding
    the sustainable uses of biodiversity, and the need for its protection and
  2. Vulnerable groups and women within such groups are invariably more dependent
    on biodiversity and they are therefore to be considered its most crucial stakeholders.
  3. The work should be carried out in the local vernacular language in which
    the common people speak.
  4. The work should be carried out as a result of a participatory process,
    with widespread involvement of people. Also, the effort should be to examine
    these issues in a non-anthropocentric fashion and see them as well from below.
    The SAP should never degenerate into a pure academic exercise. It should fairly
    reflect the views of all actors and it should discuss the all-important political
    realities. It should frankly address issues relating to equitable access to

1.6 Methodology

An attempt was made to make the process of preparation of the Goa SAP as democratic
and participatory as possible. Also, specific thrust was given to not keeping
work on the project confined to the professional academic and research community,
but to generate material from within the communities themselves. In fact, some
of the sub-reports have been prepared either in Konkani, or in Marathi, and
are based on active contributions from the communities themselves. The fairly
large amount of material already available in English was also used during the

The work on the Goa SAP began through a process of consultation involving NGOs,
research and academic institutions, government, and individuals knowledgeble
about biodiversity in their areas. On the basis of this preliminary consultation,
a Steering Committee (SC) was formed (Annexure 1). The SC first met on
8th December 2000, and four times thereafter (Annexure 2). During the
first meeting, major issues and geographical areas to be covered were considered
and decided. Before the second meeting, the SC was expanded and specific areas
of work were allotted to the members. Around this time, a press conference was
also held, and detailed articles on the Goa SAP appeared in all local newspapers
(Annexure 3). People who expressed interest at this stage were also included
in the SC, subject to their willingness to take up specific assignments.

It is the primary consultations done through this process that have been the
most important aspects of this project in Goa. They form the base upon which
this report rests. Detailed research on specific aspects or topics was carried
out, based on the geographical and thematic divisions decided upon in the SC.
Researchers fanned out in Goa’s villages, and met people for whom biodiversity
is of vital importance in their own domains in remote areas. Eventually, over
500 persons in different villages were accosted and they spoke on various aspects
of biodiversity to the members of the team (Annexure 4).

Members of the SC who had been given specific assignments then completed their
work under the overall guidance and supervision of Dr. Nandkumar Kamat. During
meetings of the SC, progress was reviewed and suggestions made. The members
interacted with the supervisor on a regular basis.

In May 2001, a one-day workshop was convened to consider the work done till
date, to identify gaps, and to work out the framework of the draft SAP (Annexure
). Based on this, some preliminary drafting was done. Feedback from members
of the public which came in was incorporated. Dr. Nandkumar Kamat guided most
of the work up to this stage.

Much of the information collected by the various members of the SC as part
of the process has never been documented before in a scientific and organized
manner. The following biodiversity reports, which were novel initiatives for
Goa, were prepared under the supervision of Dr Nandkumar Kamat.

  • Bibliography of materials relating to Goa’s Biodiversity
    Dr. Kasturi N. Desai prepared a check-list of Goa’s biodiversity (Table
    ). This check-list covered species of plants and animals, recorded so
    far in Goa from published and unpublished literature. The check-list also
    listed various habitats. The individual species data was then verified against
    available field reports, where available, generated by scientists. For example,
    the plants list was finalised under the supervision of M. Janarthanam, a plant
    taxonomist from Goa University and the revised lists have been included in
    this report in Annexure 6. List of medical plants can be found at Annexure

Table 1

Goa’s biodiversity at a glance
Taxa Catalogued No Remarks
I. Microbes    
a. Virus 30  
b. Yeasts 150  
c. Bacteria 150  
d. Fungi    
- Terrestrial NA  
- Aquatic NA  
- Marine NA  
II Algae    
- Terrestrial NA  
- Fresh water 156  
- Marine 50  
III. Bryophytes NA  
IV. Pteridophytes NA  
V. Angiosperms 1750 Includes domesticated varieties
VI. Gymnosperms 1  
I. Invertebrata    
- Protozoa NA  
- Porifera NA  
- Coelenterata NA  
- Platyhelminthes NA  
- Aschelminthes NA  
- Nematoda 10  
- Annelida NA  
- Arthropoda 112  
- Arachnida 30  
- Crustacea 82  
- Mollusca    


Gastropoda 63  
Cephalopoda 02  
- Echinodermata NA  
II. Protochordata    
- Hermichordata NA  
III. Vertebrata or Chordata    
- Pisces 205  
- Reptilia 49  
- Aves 357  
- Mammalia 45  

* NA – Not Available

  • Sacred groves and water resources – Rajendra P. Kerkar prepared
    a report on the sacred groves based on primary information, and the rivers
    of mostly north Goa district. This is part of a larger project of documenting
    all the sacred groves in Goa, on which work is proceeding. The research uncovered
    the vital role of traditional beliefs and practices, and the underlying conservation
    principles, that had led to the protection of these forested stretches. It
    also evaluates the status of such groves: which of them are still intact,
    and which have been subjected to disturbance and why. The list of sacred grooves
    is provided at Annexure 8.
  • Traditional natural resource management, ethno technology and community
    based plant germ plasm conservation
    – Mahendra Phaldessai and Vaijayanti
    Prabhugaonkar worked in the three southern talukas of Goa: Canacona, Quepem
    and Sanguem. They generated primary information o traditional occupations,
    wild crop seeds, biodiversity, and traditional nature conservation principles
    in this area. Their report (in Marathi) gives a picture of biodiversity-based
    traditional practices.
  • Ethno-Icthyology – Dr. Manoj R. Borkar documented the community
    knowledge of lesser-known fauna in Mormugao and Salcette talukas, with emphasis
    on marine species, based on primary data. The work went beyond this towards
    identifying biodiversity conservation related threats and opportunites, and
    has also thrown up valuable insights regarding strategies that could be employed
    for conservation
  • Traditional knowledge of Biodiversity and socio-linguistics aspects
    of resource knowledge
    – Dr. Bernadette Gomes collected primary information
    on biodiversity and resource use in the areas of Salcette, Quepem and Sanguem.
    She documented practical uses of little-known biodiversity by communites in
    these three talukas, with special focus on marginal groups and women.
  • Traditional knowledge of Biodiversity, ethno-technology and resource
    – Prakash Paryenkar generated primary information on biodiversity,
    traditional knowledge and traditional occupations in Sattari and Sanguem talukas.
    His work (in Konkani) has shed valuable light on little-known traditional
    knowledge concepts and occupations, particularly in the areas of agricultural
  • Ethno-herpetology – Nirmal Kulkarni prepared a report on human-animal
    and human-reptile relationships in Sattari taluka. He has also stressed the
    importance of environmental education and suggested simple programmes which
    could be easily implemented. Bhalchandra Mayenkar recorded the reptile diversity
    and ecological aspects from the areas left uncovered by Nirmal Kulkarni.
  • Avifauna – Harvey D’Souza catalogued the diversity of birds
    and their behaviour and identified the habitats of migratory birds as well
    as the pressures on wetlands from primary experience.

Besides the overall supervision of the preparation of the above reports, Dr.
Nandkumar Kamat compiled the basic categorisation of some of the different ecosystems,
the specifics of the agroecosystem known as the khazan and prepared the tables
listing threat perceptions and neglected habitats.

The following significant aspects of biodiversity in Goa and unique to the
State have been culled from the various reports listed above:

  • Fifteen villages in Goa are named after the mango tree, two after the kokum.
    There are villages named after the Banyan, the Tamarind and the Tulsi (Annexure
  • Ten villages are named after the tiger, three after peacocks, five after
    snakes. Villages are named after anthills, forest land, gardens, waterfalls
    and water bodies (Annexure 9).
  • The replacement of forest and natural vegetation by large plantations, especially
    cashew, has eliminated wildlife habitats in several areas.
  • The population of monitor lizards has declined because there is no control
    exercised over the use of their skins for making drums (ghumot).
  • After several decades Olive Ridley Turtles have returned to nest on several
    Goan beaches, after a successful conservation programme initiated by NGOs,
    local village communities and the Forest Department.
  • Puran Sheti is a form of agriculture unique to Goa in which fields are created
    on the banks of river beds which have run dry. Such fields disappear with
    the onset of the monsoon.
  • Wildlife worship in Goa includes the worship of crocodiles (mangge thapnee)
    and termite mounds. Celebrations of Ganesh Mahotsav in Goa has a unique feature
    of Matoli, a display of seasonal fruits and vegetables hung over the idol.
  • Among butterflies, the biggest (Common Birdwing) and the smallest (Grass
    Jewel) are to be found in Goa.
  • 52% of the forest area of Goa falls under Wildlife Sanctuary notifications.
    84% of existing forests in Goa belong to the Government.
  • Iron ore contaminated sediments from mining areas have formed a film in
    the estuarine areas and destroyed the ecology of clam beds.
  • The Wroughton’s Free Tailed Bat, endemic Chiropteran species found only
    in this area, would become extinct if a Karnataka Government proposal to divert
    water from the Madei river is allowed.
  • Certain wild mushroom species are in danger of extinction due to indiscriminate
    commercial exploitation.
  • Frogs are illegally served in some Goan restaurants under the nomenclature
    of ‘jumping chicken’.
  • Kumeri (slash-and-burn agriculture) has been finally stopped in Goa
    and officially no longer exists.
  • Ganv Bhovni, village based hunting of wild life for ritual purposes,
    continues in a few areas despite being in violation of the Wildlife Protection
    Act, 1972.
  • Interestingly, Goa’s marine resources are also being shared by immigrants
    from the neighbouring states. An interesting case is that of the Pachangrais,
    a nomadic fishing tribe of Mysore district in Karnataka, who seasonally migrate
    into Goa for fishing activities. However, these are not viewed as a threat
    by the local fishermen, as the species which they catch are not desired by
    the locals.
  • The State plays host to 55 sacred groves, preserved and maintained because
    of their association with various deities.
  • Neither the Regional Plan of Goa 2001 nor the draft Regional Plan for Goa
    2010, which purport to control land use in the State, make any reference to
  • There are a large number of agro-systems designed by local people to suit
    different ecological niches/needs, each with its own local name.
  • In the coastal areas, satellite pictures indicate that while the vegetative
    cover has increased, the number of species used largely by resorts, etc. show
    a steady decrease.
  • Large development projects like the Selaulim and Anjunem dams were constructed
    without an EIA and without considering impacts on the biodiversity of the
    areas in which they are located.

Besides the commissioning of the above reports and field investigations and
studies, various other measures to elicit public participation were also resorted
to by the SC. The "Call for Participation" was distributed in English
and Konkani at meetings organised by the WWF, Goa University etc. No public
hearings were, however, held.

Dr Manoj Borkar, a Member of the SC attended a Mid-term Review Meeting cum
Workshop at INSA auditorium at New Delhi in June 2001 and presented a consolidated
status report on the work of the Goa State BSAP. Dr Kasturi Desai represented
the Goa SC at the Western Region NBSAP meeting at Ahmedabad in November 2001.
They were able to provide valuable feedback to the SC to help align the work
with the overall national perspective. Dr Nandakumar Kamat presented the summary
of the Goa BSAP work at a workshop organised by the CEE on January 15th, 2002,
at Donapaula, Goa, to discuss Rio+10 issues exclusively for the Western region.

In October 2001, the Goa State Steering Committee organised a workshop on Coastal
Biodiversity in association with the West-Coast Eco-Region Group. This one-day
meeting was well attended, both by persons from Goa and resource persons from
the TPCG who gave valuable feedback on the whole process (Annexure 10).

A draft report was prepared in March 2002. Thereafter, the report was drafted
and circulated to independent scientists for checking of the species inventories.
Corrections and modifications were incorporated in the month of March/April
Thereafter, the Draft Final Report was printed and circulated officially to
all Government departments, NGOs and experts for final reading and comments.
The Report was discussed and adopted formally at a meeting of all stakeholders
held in June 2002, subject to the observations and criticisms made at the meeting.

As it was felt that the conservation strategy aspect needed to be strengthened,
a further meeting of people was called specifically with this in mind in July

The immediate action plan envisages taking the information presented in this
report in the form of a mobile exhibition to different villages and towns of
Goa, not only to enhance awareness but to solicit public cooperation at all
levels in the biodiversity conservation programme. Also proposed is a major
food mela which will be based on promoting foods made from local biological
resources including wild foods and using indigenous or traditional recipes.

2.0. Profile of area

2.1 Geographical Profile (Size, Location, Latitudes /
Longitudes, etc.)

Goa is situated along the Central west coast of India lying in between latitudes
150 48′ 00″ and 140 43′ 54″ and longitudes 740 20′ 13″ to 730 40′ 33″E .The
altitude ranges from sea level to more than 600 mts above sea level in the Western

The State comprises 11 talukas, out of which Tiswadi, Bardez, Pernem, Bicholim,
Satari and Ponda talukas comprise North Goa district (1736 sq km) and Mormugao,
Salcette, Canacona and Quepem make up South Goa district (1966 sq km). North
to South, the length of Goa State is 105 km from North to South and 60 km from
east to west. The geographical area of Goa State is 3702 sq km.


The principal geological feature of the land is the extensive laterization
which occurs because of Goa’s tropical moist climate, subject to vast seasonal
changes. The laterite caps are extensive over most of the terrain, mountains,
plateaus or plains and they have by and large determined the nature of the region’s
vegetative cover.

Specifically, the State is predominantly covered by the rocks of the Goa Group
belonging to the Dharwar sub-group of the Archean to proterozic age, except
for a narrow strip along the northeastern corner occupied by the Deccan traps.
The Goa group consists of green schistic faces of metamorphic rocks which have
been folded and intruded by granite gneiss, feldspar gneiss, hornblende granite
and porphyritic granite followed by basic intrusives. The rocks of the Goa group
are broadly comparable and correlated with the rocks included in the Chitradurga
group of Dharwar Super Group of Karnataka. During sub-recent to recent times,
the rocks have been subjected to laterisation resulting in a cover of laterite
of varying thickness. The soils of the state belong to 4 orders, 6 sub orders,
10 great groups, 14 subgroups, 21 families and 32 series. Inceptisols are dominant
followed by entisols, ultisols and alfisols.


The country has been divided into several watersheds which are reflected
in the Watershed Atlas of India (see map). Goa falls in the 5th
Water source region of the ‘B’ Cauvery basin of the first catchment (Sharavati
to Savitri) and ‘B’ sub-catchment (Kalinadi to Vaghotan). This area has
been classified into 6 watersheds and given the classification Nos. 5B1B1,
5B1B2, 5B1B3, 5B1B4, 5B1B5 and 5B1B6. These 6 watersheds then further
subdivide into 67 sub-watersheds which are themselves further subdivided
into 139 mini watersheds (approx. area of 10-30 and 374 micro
watersheds (approx. area of 5-10

(Source: Goa State Remote Sensing Centre, Department
of Science, Technology and Environment

River Systems

The region is drained by nine independent rivers flowing generally
from East (Western Ghats) to West (the Arabian Sea). An exception is the Sal
river in south Goa which follows a north-east to south west course due to the
west coast fault.

Terekhol, Mandovi, Zuari, Colvale, Sal, Talpona, Saleri, Canacona
and Galgibag are the main nine rivers of Goa. Due to the extent of their drainage
areas and the human attraction they hold, these main nine rivers and their 42
tributaries play a significant role in the lives of the people of the State.
Between themselves, the Mandovi and Zuari together drain 2553 sq km, about 70%
of the total geographical area of Goa.

These rivers are a major source of potable water. The surface
water system is intimately linked up with their development since they provide
irrigation facilities for agriculture, produce biotic and mineral resources,
help in the barge-based transport of ore from the mining areas to the port,
and ferry people and goods to different parts of the state.

Goa’s rivers are unique in that they are both tidal and rainfed.
Huge volumes of monsoon water fall within the watershed areas and are then drained
out through the major rivers to the sea. But all the rivers are subject to tidal
influence to a great distance inwards from their mouth. In some case, the ebb
and flow of the tides reach 40 kms inland. The salinity factor in the river
varies sharply between the monsoon and non-monsoon periods, and so does the
quality of water in wells all along the banks, which tends to get increasingly
saline as the summer months advance. The rivers discharge their water into the
Arabian Sea at several points, completing the hydrological cycle.

2.2 Socio-Economic Profile

In terms of ‘official’ or conventionally perceived socio-economic indicators,
Goa does fairly well compared to many other Indian states. The per capita income
of Goa is the highest in the country. This is due, partly, to better compliance
and reporting, but the general prosperity is undeniable if one does not move
out of the highly developed coastal belt. After a period of high population
growth, the previous decade (1991-2001) witnessed a decadal growth rate of 14.89%.
However, statistics conceal more than they reveal. There is serious enough unemployment
and poverty in the State. In terms of other socio-economic indicators as well,
Goa’s performance is rated good. Literacy levels are over 80% overall, though
for women the rate is about 75%. In terms of health and infrastructure indicators
also, Goa performs substantially well.

Socio-Economic Indicators in Brief

  • Population (2001 Census)

    Total: 1,343,998 (13.43 lakh) persons
    658,381 (6.58 lakhs) females, 685,617 males. Sex Ratio 960.
    Declined from 967 in 1991.
    Decadal Growth Rate
    : 14.89%
    : 363 per square kilometre. Goa’s population density is one of
    the highest of all states.
    Child (0-6years) population:
    Sex Ratio in child population:
    933 (much less than in total population!)

    Scheduled Castes
    comprise just over 2% of the total population. The population
    Scheduled Tribes
    is negligible, but communities like Kunbis, Gawdas, Velips
    and Dhangars, widely considered Goa’s original tribes and estimated at 30%
    of population are not included in this category. Goa is today a highly urbanised
    state in India. This makes it a special case for conservation because haphazard
    and unsustainable urbanisation over past 50 years has drastically impacted
    natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

  • Education

    Literacy (2001 Census): 82.32% (88.88% for males, 75.51% for females)

    Primary Schools
    (1999-00): 1281 (100639 students)
    Middle Schools (1999-00):
    444 (71636 students)
    Secondary Schools (1999-00):
    365 (62718 students)
    Higher Secondary Schools (1998-99):
    81 (21612 students)
    Colleges (1998-99):
    41 (18296 students) Goa is second only to Kerala in
    terms of literacy. As on 31st Dec. 1997, the number of job seekers on the
    live register of the employment exchange was about 18% of the population in
    the age group of 15 to 39 years. This indicates that a substantial number
    of able-bodied people are unemployed.

  • Essential Services

    Piped Water: Capacity 299 MLD, consumption 263 MLD (1998-99). While
    these statistical realities appear to indicate a comfortable scenario, large
    areas of Goa go without water in the summer months.
    1066 million kilowatt hours (1999-00) Industrial to total consumption—47.44%
    Transmission and distribution losses are estimated at 27% which is quite high.

  • Health

    Birth Rate: 14.3 (1994)
    Infant Mortality
    : 18.8 per 1000 live births (1991 census)
    Death Rate:
    6.55 (1994)
    Government Hospitals/ Health Centres [with beds] (1999-00):
    Beds: 2,874
    Private Hospitals (1999-00):
    Beds: 1,936
    Goverment Health Centres/Sub-centres/Dispensaries [without beds] (1999-00):
    Doctor to Population Ratio:
    1:750 (1989-90)

  • Communications

    TV: 1 Relay Transmitter, 2 Channels. Receivers unknown.
    : 1 Broadcasting Station, 2 Channels. Receivers unknown.
    Newspapers and periodicals 34 (1992-93) Readers unknown.

    Telephone connections
    : 129348 as on 31.08.00.
    Public Call Offices:
    2623 as on 31.08.00.
    Post Offices:
    258, letter boxes: 814 as on 31.03.00

  • Transport

    Roads: Length—9240.49 km (as on 31.3.1999)
    Main Waterways (1999-00): 23
    Passengers ferried (1996-97) : 6921477
    Vehicles in operation (as on 31.03.2000): 318299; two-wheelers: 227933
    Bus Routes: 599

  • Economic Indices

    Net State Domestic Product (1997-98): Rs. 321235 lakhs.
    Per Capita NSDP (as above): Rs 24,610
    No. of banking offices: 375 (1996)
    Bank Deposits: Rs. 3714.31 crores (1996)
    Bank Credits: Rs. 1248.11 crores (1996)

2.3 Political Profile

It is well-known that the Portuguese captured Goa in 1510 and continued to
rule the State till 1961. An indigenous freedom struggle for liberation from
Portuguese rule challenged the legitimacy of the Portuguese as long-standing
rulers. The Indian Army marched into Goa against little resistance on December
19, 1961.

Thereafter Parliament amended the Constitution (in early 1962) and Goa, together
with Daman and Diu (the other Portuguese enclaves), became a centrally administered
Union Territory of India. A Lieutenant Governor was sworn in and an informal
‘Consultative Council’ of 29 members was constituted on September 24, 1962.
It advised the Union Government till the first popular elections were held in
1964. Thereafter, Goa, Daman and Diu had a common legislative assembly of 30
members headed by a Chief Minister.

The highlights of the ensuing years were: the first panchayat elections, the
ascendency of the MGP to power, the formation of the Land Reforms Commission,
the passing of the Goa Agricultural Tenancy Act, 1964 and the Land Revenue Code,
1968; an historic Opinion Poll (in 1967) in which Goans voted against merger
with neighbouring Maharashtra; the agitation by the traditional fishermen, students,
the fall of MGP and ascendency of Congress, passing of the Tree Protection Act
and establishment of Goa university in 1985, and an unprecedented massive, sustained
movement from 1984 which culminated in 1987 in official language status being
conferred on Konkani and co-language, non-official status for Marathi.

The Panchayat was the first democratic entity created in Goa soon after independence.
The administration was run through Block Development Committees, which were
a sort of bridge between the Panchayat and the Government.

The scenario changed on May 30, 1987 when Goa became the 25th full-fledged
State of the Indian Union. Since the elections in 1989, the State has had a
40-member assembly with full legislative powers.

The most noticeable feature of post-statehood has been chronic political instability.
During the 25 years between 1964 and 1989 Goa had just three chief ministers.
After the 1989 elections, there have been no less than thirteen in the space
of eleven years, some with terms lasting as little as a few months, and one
surviving for just four days! This has had serious negative consequences on
the economy and ecology of the State.

After the 73rd and 74th Constitution amendments were adopted by Parliament
in 1992, Goa was required to have a three-tiered political set-up, with decentralisation
of political powers to local authorities. Government enacted the Goa Panchayati
Raj Act in 1993 to enable panchayats to have exclusive jurisdiction over several
local issues. It also amended the Goa Municipalities Act, 1968, to bring that
Act in line with the Constitution’s requirements. The middle tier comprising
of Zilla Parishads has only just come into existence.

In the older dispensation, there were 374 revenue villages, divided into 183
village panchayats, in turn organized under 10 ‘development blocks’. The administration
was run through the Collector at the district level, the Mamlatadar at the taluka
level and Sarpanch at the panchayat level. There were also 13 municipal towns
administered by Municipal Councils and Chief Officers, now 11. The Municipal
Councils came under the Director of Municipal Administration in Panaji. Though
legally the Panchayats and Councils have new, enlarged and sweeping powers and
separate jurisdiction after the Constitutional amendments, they continue to
operate mentally under the old dispensation.

The major political parties today are the Congress-I and the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP). But many MLAs are members of their parties only in name and will
ditch their party whenever they are promised power by a rival group.

In the older dispensation, there were 374 revenue villages, divided into 183
village panchayats, in turn divided into 10 ‘development blocks’. The administration
was run through the Collector at the district level, the Mamlatadar at the taluka
level and Sarpanch at the panchayat level. There are also 13 municipal towns
administered by Municipal Councils and Chief Officers. The Municipal Councils
came under the Director of Municipal Administration in Panaji. Though legally
the Panchayats and Councils have new, enlarged and sweeping powers and separate
jurisdiction after the Constitutional amendments, they continue to operate mentally
under the old dispensation.

Traditional Methods of Governance: Comunidades

One unique feature of Goa is its still existing system of the Comunidades which
does not exist in any other part of the country. Many political dynasties have
ruled Goa since the Mauryan period, but it was the continuity of the self-governed
village institutions called the ‘village gaunkaris’ which survived the political,
religious, social and ecological turmoils. The term ‘Gaunkari’ has been derived
from ‘Ganv’ (village). The ‘essence’ of a ‘Ganv’ was in ‘gaunvpon’ (=sense of
belonging to the village). The Portuguese replaced these terms with ‘comunidades’
meaning ‘village communities’.

The comunidades were actually the custodians of Goa’s natural resources and
biodiversity for more than 3000 years. The institution of the comunidade, which
had much to commend it, is nowadays in a state of irreversible decline and hence
offers only passing historical interest, though it may also give some indications
as to how natural resources could be sustainably managed at the level of the

There are at present 226 comunidades in Goa spread over its eleven talukas.
While they own only 14% of the cultivable land in this territory, they are significant
as far as paddy cultivation is concerned. According to available statistics
in three talukas of Ilhas, Salcette and Bardez having the largest paddy area,
the comunidades hold over 55% of land (Ilhas – 55%, Salcette – 51% and Bardez
– 56%). In Marmagao taluka, where the total paddy area available is 1019 ha,
the comunidades have 62% land.

The comunidades were actually the custodians of Goa’s natural resources and
biodiversity for more than 3000 years. The institution, which had much to commend
it, is nowadays in a state of irreversible decline and hence offers only passing
historical interest, though it may also give some indications as to how natural
resources could be sustainably managed at the level of the community.

2.4 Ecological Profile

During its relative isolation when under Portuguese rule from the rest of
the country, Goa was, by the standards of most other imperial powers, benignly
governed. A Portuguese empire in its decline did not place too many demands
on the State’s natural resources, but considerable damage was nevertheless caused.

The Portuguese, for example, paralysed the Comunidades, with adverse effects
on local control over the environment. They introduced vast monocultures of
an exotic species like cashew. Cashew plantations have very poor biodiversity.
The Portuguese also gave liberal and rampant mining concessions and leases to
the private investors/prospectors. These concessions became the foundation of
Goa’s privately owned mining industry which till today follows no environment
laws. Thus, the Portuguese are responsible for the destruction of forests and
vegetation in the areas leased out before 1961.

The Portuguese also ignored land reforms, and created the system of ‘morgados’
refered to and criticized by Franciso Louis Gommes in the 19th century.
The Portuguese also imported, alongwith many economically useful exotic plant
species, plant and animal pathogens, weeds etc.

Liberated from Portuguese rule in 1961, Goa has been induced to rapidly become
a part of the national mainstream, while struggling to retain, in some measure,
its unique charm as one of the most attractive bioregions of the country.

Broadly speaking, there are three main physical divisions or ecozones: the
mountainous region of the Sahyadris in the east, the middle level plateaus in
the centre and the low-lying river basins, and the coastal plains. Of these,
naturally, the least known is the Western Ghat region, which runs from north
to south but in the hinterland. The most visible or well-known part is the coastal
belt which runs as a strip from north to south. Sandwiched in between is the
midland region, apparently nondescript, but nevertheless with its own significant
ecological and cultural characteristics and the focus of much of the State’s
industrial development.

The Western Ghats are one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity in the
world. The sections that lie within Goa (the Sahyadris) and which dominate its
ecosystems readily reflect this bewildering complexity in plant, animal and
bird life.

Official recognition of the ecological value of this area has come in the form
of gazette notifications declaring huge areas as sanctuaries or biosphere reserves.

In the year 2001, a confederation of environmental NGOs from Goa, Karnataka
and Maharashtra proposed the creation of a new ground reality, the Sahyadri
Ecologically Sensative Area or SESA, to be notified by the Ministry of Environment
and Forests under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The second ecozone (the central strip) consists, by and large, of plateaus
at varying levels, not exceeding about 100 metres and not less than 30 metres
in height. While apparently nondescript, this ‘midland’ portion nevertheless
has significant ecological and cultural characteristics, often in sharp contrast
to coastal Goa. The plateaus are a characteristic feature of Goa; the tops are
fairly level but in many areas deeply notched by gullies. The plateau rims are
noticeably sharp. A scarp slope usually marks the quick transition to the alluvial
plain below.

Wherever the plateaus meet the coastline they end in headlands: in the north
of Goa, the Aguada, the Cabo and Mormugao heights are good examples of this.

Not unnaturally, the historic forts of Goa’s defence were all strategically
situated on such headlands. Today they lie largely in ruins. The vegetation
topping the plateaus and their laterite cover is comprised mainly of various
species of scrub and rough grass due to the very poor shallow soil. There is
more intense vegetation, both natural and cultivated, along the scarp faces
and in the hollows of the gullies. This includes good strands of typical monsoon
forest. The gullies have numerous springs which feed the rivers down below.

As the Gazetteer of Goa describes it: ‘The laterite plateau with clumps
of grass and thinly spread cashew shrubs, often with a church or a cross perched,
skirted by greenery of coconut palms and natural growth, deeply entrenched notches
of low grounds with betel and coconut gardens, the kulagars and the plateau
base sharply merging into the alluvial flats below, form a recurrent theme in
the landscape of most of central and coastal Goa.’

The more prominent of the group are the plateau lands of Pernem, Mopa, Morgim,
Assonora (North), Ponda and Cundaim, and Betul, Sanvordem and Quepem (South).
Associated towns include Assonora, Bicholim, Ponda and Quepem. The plateaus
like Verna, Kundaim, Marcaim, Pilerne-Saligao were converted into industrial
estates, whereas dense settlements have come up at Porvorim, Bambolim-Donapaula
plateaus. The plateaus display a large biodiversity of plants, especailly grasses,
shrubs, herbs, insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds and are known for many
species of wildflowers.

This part of Goa contrasts with coastal Goa in more ways than one. While the
coastlands carry a Westernised landscape, this is a region of Hindu iconographies,
expressed in numerous shrines and temples, the most important of which are the
shrines of Mangueshi and Shantadurga.

The third distinct ecological component of the Goa bioregion—after the
Western Ghat area and the lateritic plateaus—comprises the alluvial lowlands
and coasts. The former comprise the stretches of rivers which have over the
centuries received the eroded material from the higher levels of the Sahyadris.

The two major riverine plains are those of the Mandovi and the Zuari rivers
which between themselves comprise the major alluvial deposits. The Chapora in
the North and the Kushavati and Sal river valleys are the locations of the other
major riverine plains in Goa. However, such alluvial plains and valleys can
be found in between the plateau regions as well. All these alluvial valleys
are areas of rich cultivation with settlements of agricultural populations.

The entire area comprises a distinct ecological zone of the State. It comprises
the main paddy-growing areas including the khazans, but excludes the cashew
growing areas which are generally found in the higher tracts. Besides paddy,
the other principal crop is coconut. Both rice and coconut, together with the
fish harvested from the seas and rivers, are essential to the idea of Goa as
it has evolved over the centuries. Only the proper and adequate availability
of all three elements can continue to bring mental and spiritual peace to the
local population.

Besides these rivers, there are numerous wetlands, a few of them man-made,
but the rest largely natural. Many of these wetlands are the habitats of a large
variety of birds. Some of them are used for purposes of irrigation. The most
important of these are the wetlands of Chandor, Raitolem-Curtorim, Panchwadi
Carambolim, Chimbel, Mayem, Kakora and Calafur.

From the coastline, if you leave aside a narrow 80 m stretch from the sea,
the entire lowlands strip, varying in width from 12 to 15 km, is the most developed
part of the State, containing about 80% of the population. This area is densely

While the Western Ghat area is now a completely protected zone, this is not
the case with the coastal region, which, till 1991, continued to remain the
frenzied focus of every new development from five star resorts to aquaculture
farms. The Coastal Regulation Zone notification now protects the area from the
High Tide Line upto 500 metres.

Within these three ecozones lie a myriad of natural and agro ecosystems, each
exhibiting its own unique biodiversity.

2.5 Brief History

Footprints of prehistoric humans in Goa have been dated to 100 millennia before
the present. The migration took place from the valleys of Ghatprabha and Malaprabha
and the first human camps were established in the paleolithic age by homo
. A very interesting finding has been the discovery of rich rock
art in Goa in 1993. This rock art gives insights into the state of the ecosystem
and biodiversity in prehistoric times.

There can be little doubt that Goa was among the most important entrepots
of the ancient and medieval world. The index of its stature was the internationally
acceptable gold currency in use around the 10th century, embossed
with the regal leonine crest of the ruling Kadambas and their patron deity,

When the Portuguese arrived five centuries later, Goa was under Muslim rule.
The city and port had shifted north, to the banks of the Mandovi. Before Portugal
discovered its own sea route to India, trade between Occident and Orient was
monopolised by the Arabs. When Albuquerque seized Goa (and then Daman and Diu),
the Arabs’ sources were cut off. Portugal took control of trade and built its
empire—until the Dutch, French and English made inroads and the Portuguese empire
began its irreversible decline as a world power.

The Portuguese doctor, Garcia de Orta, is famous for compiling the first major
list of plants called Colloquios dos simplices and drogas e cousas medicinais
da India
(1567). It was perhaps the first modern effort at an inventory
of plants.

Imported plants, brought in by the Portuguese, have enriched local plant diversity.
Five hundred years ago, India had no potatoes, groundnuts, tomatoes or chillies.
These important crops were relative newcomers to Indian fields and cuisine.

Ports on the West Coast of India—Surat, Bombay, Dabhol, Goa, Honavar, Mangalore
and Cochin—played a major role in the import and dispersal of these useful exotic
plants. Before medieval times, Goa traded with African coast, Egypt, the Persian
Gulf and S.E. Asia. Oceanic and maritime trade brought exotic species to Indian
shores and diversified regional plant gene-pools. The growing demand for novel
crops (such as tobacco and pineapple) led to the establishment of experimental
nurseries and plantations, mostly by missionaries. The novelty and utility of
many exotic plant species brought a change in the agricultural economy, food
habits and cultural practices of the Western Ghats and India as a whole.

By the early 18th century, the cultivation of tobacco, chillies, chickoos,
guavas, sitaphals, pineapples, oranges, cashews, papayas, and breadfruit was
established in South India, including Goa. India became one of the world’s largest
producers of some of the imported crops.

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