Ramesh Kamat has driven a taxi for 30 years. As he drove me through Goa, his affection for his home state was unmistakable. He rattled off the name of every river we crossed, its tributaries, the names of trees, of the best stores to buy cashew nuts, and of the restaurants with the most authentic Goan food.
In Colva, Kamat pointed to a Goa Tourist Development Corporation hotel on the beach, which had a rundown exterior. “We used to have an ancestral home in this very spot,” said Kamat, smiling. “I used to come here as a child and play with my cousins during my summer vacations.” He pointed to all the shut shops and almost empty restaurants on the beach and said, “None of these things were here.”
Kamat, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for this story, said that he had known some of his customers for decades and that they had remained loyal to him. It was easy to believe him – his soft-spoken and demure nature make Kamat easily likeable.
But Kamat explained that on some occasions, he has had to display a more aggressive side of himself: specifically, when he has been at the forefront of protests, such as those organised by Goa’s taxi unions against the government, with demands such as for better pay.
In recent years, such protests have focused most prominently on the opposition of local taxi unions’ to the entry into the state of app-based taxi services, such as Ola and Uber. In many other parts of India, these apps have introduced substantially lower fares than those of existing services. When Ola was introduced in Goa in 2014, local taxi associations went on strike, forcing the government to shut it down.
The issue is a fraught one – tourists have often argued that taxis in the state charge exorbitant prices, while unions maintain that they follow rates set by the government. The government’s effort to introduce its own app, GoaMiles, was also met with protest by taxi unions.
Taxi unions argue that the conflict over app-based services boils down to a question of employment for locals and that allowing large corporations with deep pockets to launch services in the state will result in “outsiders” taking away jobs from the locals.
“We put up a strong front and refuse to back down,” said a taxi union leader. “That is why we have managed to keep our jobs.”
The fear of unemployment in the state is not unfounded. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, or CMIE, a private company, analyses unemployment rates in the country each month. Its March 2023 analysis showed that Goa’s unemployment rate stood at 15%, double the national unemployment rate of 7%. Goa has the seventh-highest rate of unemployment among Indian states, and the highest among the country’s small states and Union territories.
Goa’s economy depends primarily on three sectors – tourism, mining and agriculture. Around 40% of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on tourism, around 15% is dependent on mining, and around 10% is dependent on agriculture. Travelling to different parts of Goa and speaking to locals who work in the tourism and mining sectors, as well as activists and experts, it became apparent that despite the state’s popular image as a sunny holiday destination, the problem of unemployment for locals has been simmering steadily for many years.
While Kamat has managed to sustain a livelihood in the tourism industry with his taxi, which he owns, he worries for his teenaged children’s future – one is in school and the other is enrolled in a diploma course in travel and tourism. Since Kamat often drives for guests at five-star hotels, he has contacts in the hospitality sector, through which he helped his elder son secure an internship at a hotel. But he is unsure of what his son will do after he graduates, since even the tourism industry has been facing its share of challenges in the state.
“If he can find a government job, it would be ideal,” Kamat said. “But that would require bribing officials. Even private jobs, it is going to be difficult for him but we have to just wait and watch. It all depends on luck.”
Many Goans argue that the government’s failure to support the local economy is apparent in the struggles of those who run the state’s beach shacks, which are among the most recognisible features of its tourism sector. These are wooden structures coconut-thatch roofs that offer food and drink.
Today, many coastal towns across India have shacks, but they first appeared on the coast of Goa. Early shack owners were mostly traditional fishermen who provided meals and housing for the hippies from Europe and the US who began to travel to Goa in the 1960s and 1970s. There are currently 367 registered shacks in the state, some of which were started in the 1960s.
In the early years, shacks were mostly family-run, said Cruz Cardozo, who has been in the shack business all his life. “But with an increasing number of tourists, it became necessary to hire outside help,” he said. “And before, people only came looking for traditional Goan food, like vindaloo or cafreal. Now they want a variety.”
Cardozo, who is also a representative of the Shack Owners Welfare Society in Goa, said shack owners struggled for want of government support to run their businesses. For instance, the government was slow to issue licences, did not allow them to stay open late into the night, when tourists were likely to frequent them, and did not readily provide them electricity and water supply, he said.
“The process to maintain a business in Goa is extremely difficult,” said Geraldine Fernandes, who has run a small guesthouse for more than 20 years, along with a tiny restaurant and bar that was established by her father-in-law, more than 40 years ago. “They dump so much paperwork on us and levy so many taxes. I’ve been running this guesthouse for 20 years and do not have any savings.”
But there was a more fundamental problem with the system itself, Cardozo explained. Shack owners’ businesses, he noted, are precarious because licences for shacks are granted through a lottery system, introduced in 1997 – the winners are granted licences to set up establishments in that location for three consecutive seasons, which typically run from September to May each year. Thus, a shack-owner one year may find themselves without a shack for the next three seasons.
“The point is that there is no guarantee of whether or not we are going to be making an income,” Cardozo said. “Shack owners have to live in uncertainty, and in case they don’t get picked, it means they have no means of supporting themselves for the following three years.”
Cardozo and several other shacks owners want the government to extend greater support to owners who have been in the business for decades.
“The ones who have been here the longest must be given priority,” he said. “The locals must rightfully benefit from this business.”
These owners were also irked by the fact that some of those who secure licences through the lottery system then sublet them to people who are not from the state. Though the practice is illegal, it has been happening for many years. “Owners often sublet their shacks to outsiders,” Cardozo said. These people “basically run the whole thing by themselves,” he added. This, Cardozo pointed out, deprived traditional shack owners of a livelihood.
Ranjan Solomon is a human rights activist and writer who works in the area of indigenous tourism rights, and is currently developing a policy proposal for shacks that he believes will be more fair than the present one. He has also helped Kamat and taxi unions initiate dialogue with the government on matters such as alleged over-overpricing.
Solomon said that the shack owners, many of whom are former fisherfolk, have a natural right to livelihoods that arise from coastal areas. “This is ancestral work, and the people who live on the coasts deserve to make their living from the businesses set up there,” he said. “They have the rights to the coasts.”
Locals have also been irked by a recent government proposal to set up “model shacks” across the state, which will have standardised facilities for tourists. As a first step, the government has invited bids from those interested in setting up these shacks, at a cost of Rs 1 crore each. “The agenda of these model shacks is to make business for locals more difficult,” Cardozo said. The opposition party raised the matter in March in the Goa assembly, and demanded that the plan be scrapped and that the government take steps to ensure that shack businesses remain with traditional shack owners.
“These are all family-run shacks and every shack has its own character – from the decor to the food and the people who run it,” Cardozo said. “Model shacks will just look alike and there will be nothing unique about them.”
But despite their desire for more government support for their shacks, owners explained that they also struggle to find local reisdents to work in them.
Solomon noted that part of the reason for this was that young Goans enjoyed more economic privilege than unemployed youth elsewhere in the country – according to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Goa has the highest per capita income in the country, more than three times the national average of the country.
“Most people in Goa own land or they have a family member abroad who sends home money,” Solomon said. “So people have a roof over their head, they have food to eat and have some amount of money coming in.”
Thus, they tended not to choose lower-paying jobs that are available – even though higher paying ones with long-term career prospects were scarce. “But unemployment is a long-term problem and I’m not sure how long they will be able to rely on these options,” Solomon said.
Shack owners also observed that work culture in Goa was more relaxed than in other places. “Goans tend to be a bit laid back,” Cardozo said. “They take many leaves and refuse to stay after work hours. Workers from outside don’t mind staying longer and they don’t take as many leaves of absence.”
Fernandes observed that her husband had also encountered this problem in his carpentry business. “Initially, we had Goan workers, but they were always taking leave,” Fernandes said. “If closing time was 5 pm, they would be getting ready to leave by 4 pm. So now we have workers from outside the state.”
Added Cardozo, “Even when I put out a call for jobs and also state that I would give Goans preference, nobody will apply. I have tried to get Goans to come and work in the shacks but there is just no interest.”
Many young Goans pointed out that the problem was not just one of a lack of jobs but also of a dearth of jobs that they wanted, that are paid well and would offer them attractive career prospects.
Fernandes’ son, who works in his father’s carpentry business, explained that he had asked many of his unemployed friends to work with him. “But they refuse to work as carpenters,” he said. “They want something better to come along.”
He added, “They are desperate for high-paying jobs and don’t want to settle for anything else. So they are just sitting at home, waiting.”
But the state government has nevertheless emphasised a need to skill workers – in September 2022, the government established the Training, Internship and Placement Cell of the Directorate of Higher Education, which will aim at creating jobs for Goan youth in the industrial sector. The cell will provide training for jobs such as of machinists, welders, masons and electricians. In its 2023-’24 budget, the government increased the allocation for skill development and entrepreneurship by 30.03%, up to Rs 148 crore.
Cardozo noted that many young Goans without advanced degrees opted for higher-paying jobs in the hospitality and tourism sector outside Goa, such as on cruise ships that sail through the state. Some also find junior management jobs in other states in the service sector, or in other fields, such as retail. Some opt to join oil rigs off Goa, which pay “a lot of money,” said Cardozo.
Government jobs in the state are particularly coveted for their stability. “Everyone wants government jobs,” Fernandes said. But, she added, with these jobs, there was “a lot of demand for bribes.” Kamat echoed this observation. “A niece of mine was asked to pay 10 lakhs for a government job even though she has all the qualifications,” Kamat said. “It isn’t easy to find jobs here.”
Meanwhile, even those who pursue a higher education and seek employment in the corporate sector struggle to chart long-term careers.
Fernandes’s son, for instance, said he worked for five years in the corporate world after his degree. “But my pay scale did not increase, and I was just stuck in that position,” he said. “Which is why I left.”
Anjali K, a 33-year-old woman from Margao, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said that she completed a master’s in commerce in 2018 and struggled to find jobs that suited her qualification. She went on to do an MBA and now works in human resources at a private company. “But I see no growth in this company and I’m keen to leave as soon as I can,” she said.
Anjali noted that when she applied for jobs, she suffered as a result of the negative impression people held that Goans are disinterested in work.
“I would spend hours looking through the classifieds and apply for every job and never hear back,” she said. “I had someone tell me that I would easily land a job if I changed my resume to make it seem like I was from outside Goa.”
Once she secured a job in human resources, she saw how the phenomenon played out from within companies. “I can see how employers think,” she said. “They outrightly tell us to look for candidates outside of Goa.”
Given this situation, she said, it was unsurprising that young people want to leave the state. “So many of my peers are in small sales jobs or sitting at home because there aren’t even opportunities,” she said. “I’m also looking for jobs outside the state, because I don’t think I can grow much if I remain here.”
Some Goans choose an even bigger shift than to just outside the state: they migrate to Portugal after surrendering their Indian passports and obtaining Portuguese ones. Portugal offers Goans a path to citizenship in light of the fact that Goa was its colony until 1961. People born in Goa up to December 19, 1961, are eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship, as are their children and grandchildren. In many parts of Goa, boards advertise “Portuguese passport”.
Philip Andrew, a driver in South Goa, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, said that a few of his relatives had migrated to the country, and were happier there. “It takes a few years, but it’s better to go away there and do whatever job is available there than to stay here,” he said.
A Right to Information application filed by Indian Express found that 40.45% of the almost 70,000 Indian passports surrendered at regional passport offices across the country between 2011 and 2022 were from Goa, though it is the smallest state in India.
Goa’s mining sector provides employment opportunities in the state’s hinterland, which is not considered to have potential for tourism. Out of Goa’s 12 talukas, seven are heavily dependent on mining. Over 40% of the state’s population is distributed in these areas. Here, over the last 30 years, the question of protecting Goa’s priceless natural heritage has clashed against the need to generate revenue and employment for the state.
Goa is rich in iron ore, manganese ore and bauxite. The first mining license was granted in 1929 under the Portuguese government. After the state was liberated in 1961, the government of Goa took over the mining activity, and the industry grew into a major contributor to the state’s economy. Over a five-year period between 2003 and 2008, the mining industry contributed Rs 25,000 crore, or 16%, to the state’s GDP.
But over the last 30 years, activists also began protesting this activity on the grounds that it was severely degrading and depleting the state’s forests, mountains and natural resources. In 2012, the government halted all mining in the state, citing as a justification the environmental damage it was causing.
In 2014, the Supreme Court struck down this order and allowed mining to resume – but noted that activity had previously exceeded limits laid down in licences, and ordered that henceforth these limits be adhered to and that other regulations be followed. The Supreme Court also asked the government to issue fresh licences to miners, after properly evaluation new applications.
But in 2015, an NGO filed a petition in the court, arguing that the government had not invited or scrutinised any new applications, and had instead renewed 88 existing ones. In 2018, the court ordered a stop to all mining operations in the state.
“The mining leases had actually expired in 2007, but the mining had continued until 2012,” said Ramesh Guans, a school teacher and anti-mining activist who has spent a major part of his life organising and participating in protests against mining activities in Goa.
As we sat in his house in Bicholim, Guans showed me dozens of pictures on his laptop of rivers and forests that had been depleted by excess mining in the region. “The amount of ore that should have lasted another 50 years has already been mined,” he said. “There is no water in Goa because so many rivers have dried up due to the mining.” He added that he had received several threats to his life, but that he was determined to continue to work towards bringing an end to mining.
The complexity of the problem is apparent from the fact that Guans’s activism directly affected friends of his, who were mine workers, and who lost their jobs after the mines were closed. When I spoke to some of these friends, they agreed with Guans that mining companies had overexploited the state’s resources and said they understood why he fought against them – and yet they expressed hope that the mines would reopen so that they would have jobs again.
A 2019 study by the Centre of Mining Environment at the Indian Institute of Technology, Dhanbad, conducted at the behest of the Goa Mineral Ore Exporter’s Association, revealed the socio-economic impact of the mining ban. It found that “with mining closure, the drop in income level has been very sharp not only in mining talukas but the impact has been felt all across Goa”. It noted that after the closures of mines, “there has been at least a 30% drop in income across Talukas and in some Talukas like Mormugao the drop is as high as 50%.” The report estimated that around 60,000 families were directly or indirectly affected by the ban on mining.
Prashanth Arjun and his colleagues from a mining company in Bicholim, who asked to be identified by pseudonyms, lost their jobs after the ban, but have not tried to look for other jobs because they hold on to the hope that the mines will be reopened. The workers said that they had received assurances from the government to this end.
Indeed,in December last year, Vedanta emerged as the successful bidder for a mine in the town of Bicholim in North Goa. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant tweeted about the news, and declared, “This major step of the Goa government will ensure the resumption and continuity of jobs for employees from the company. Further, employment opportunities will continue to be created and the mining sector will persistently flourish and prosper.” In March, the government stated that in 2023-’24, it would auction 25 mining dumps and blocks.
“It isn’t even just about the mine workers,” said Arjun. “The whole village was benefitting from the mining.” He noted that restaurants, shops, and garages in the village had all suffered significant losses after the shutting down of the mines.
Arjun and his colleagues, who are employees of Vedanta-Sesa Iron Ore Company, have been receiving half their salaries since mining was shut down. “But that does not suffice to meet our day-to-day expenses,” he said. They added, however, that workers from other companies have not been receiving any pay at all.
The far-reaching effects of the mining ban were apparent, when I visited the village of Pissurlem in North Goa in the middle of a weekday. Pissurlem was once a bustling mining village, whose economy was inextricably linked to a mine attached to it. Many residents worked in it, while many others owned and drove trucks to transport ore, and still others ran small hotels and shops whose main customers were workers from the mines. Today, the village looks deserted – with the mines shut, residents largely remained at home or occasionally worked odd jobs.
Almost every house in the village had a truck or two parked outside. Some were rusting away, their owners having given up hope that the mines would be reopened. Others were still well maintained, but their owners told me that they had barely been used.
“Every house will have a truck here,” said Abhijit P, a 24-year-old from the village who has been looking for a job for the last three years. I met Abhijit at his home on a windy June afternoon, just as dark clouds gave way to rain. He told me that late on some evenings, he wanders off and stays in woods near the village for hours together because he is exhausted from waiting for responses to job applications.
Abhijit’s father and grandfather were both miners. His father worked as a machine operator at a company called DMC and his grandfather as a contractor at one called Fomento. The family also owned and operated two trucks.
Abhijit, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for this story, grew up believing that he too would follow in their footsteps. He recounted that when the ban was first imposed, his father was forced to take him out of a relatively expensive residential school in Maharashtra and admit him to a local school. “The mining companies looked after us well,” Abhijit said. “We had school buses, ambulances and several other facilities. Now, not a single ambulance will enter here.”
Varun Chandra, another resident, explained that his father also owned and operated two trucks – the vehicles now lie unused in their backyard, rusting and overrun by nettles. Both families bought these trucks with loans that they have managed to repay over the last ten years. But now they earn nothing from the vehicles. “It is a huge loss for us,” Chandra said. “Not just for our family, but the entire village.”
Chandra said he is hoping to set up a supermarket sometime in the future. Abhijit, on the other hand, is waiting for the government to lift the ban on mining.
“The government keeps telling us that they’ll open the mines again in three months or six months,” Abhijit’s father said. “But it never happens. They’ve been saying the same thing for ten years now.”
To add to the family’s frustrations, a small plot of land that they own, located near the mine, has been rendered useless for agriculture because it has been used as a dumping ground for waste material from the mine.
Abhijit, who holds a diploma in agricultural studies, has also been applying for government jobs, including with the health department, the Goa police and the fire fighting department. “I have been trying for three years and nothing is coming through,” he said.
When I asked him if he intended to continue to apply for jobs, he merely shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think there is any point, because I don’t feel that there are enough jobs available,” he said. “Bribes seem to be the only way to get a government job.”
He added, “The best thing for all of us would be if they reopened the mines.”
Balaji Gawas, the president of the North Goa Truck Owners Association, explained that now the government had also ordered that vehicles older than 15 years be scrapped. “It has already been ten years since the first ban in 2012,” Gawas said. “Many of our vehicles are close to 15 years old and haven’t even been used.” The new order, he said, would leave truck drivers who now carry out short trips for work unrelated to mining completely stripped of their livelihood.
Gawas, too, recounted that after the ban, he was forced to remove his children from the good schools they were studying in and admit them to less reputed schools. “People have had to surrender their lands because they’ve not been able to pay back the loans they borrowed to buy their trucks,” he said.
He argued that the damage done to workers’ livelihoods was unjustifiable. “We have not done anything illegal,“ he said. “So why do we have to suffer without jobs?”