11th May 2013
Battle Lines DrawnThe All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has toughened its stand demanding the complete roll back of Goa’s entry tax on threat to stop all transportation of goods and passenger operations from May 12 midnight, setting the stage for a confrontation with the Goa government.
Both Transport Minister Sudin Dhavlikar and Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar who have talked tough on the issue, refusing to roll back the tax, were out of station when a delegation of the transporters association went to meet them earlier this week. The Goa government has offered concession passes to regular transporters from neighbouring districts which is being seen by the all-India truckers as a means of dividing them. It is unlikely the government which has already said its tax policies will not be dictated to by transporters will accept demands from truckers and chambers of commerce to reduce the tax by 75 per cent for pass-holders and 50 per cent for those carrying industrial raw materials, or that the four-hour long turnaround time would be be increased to six hours.
Either way, the stage is set for a face-off, with much depending on who will blink first. With Goa dependent on its neighbours for a great deal of its food, vegetables, foodgrain, milk and even beef, besides other commodities, the inevitable rise in prices will not make it easy on the consumer. It may or may not be central to the current situation, but there are several undercurrents running through the scenario, not least that a section of minority traders control not insignificant sections of the vegetable, fruit and even the beef trade to Goa, and in the case of the latter have been hit hard by happenings on this front.
The strong regional sentiment being evoked in the discussion on the possibility of a food blockade dovetails not coincidentally with the state government’s talk of reviving agriculture, conducting a survey on fallow fields, with threats to take these over and resort to contract farming in the case of agricultural fields not cultivated. Goa’s dependence for much of its food items on neighboring states has at any rate been a cause for concern.
The Opposition NCP and Congress spokesmen have already averred to a political strategy behind the government’s handling of the Goa Meat Complex and beef issue ~ accusing the BJP government of being complicit with the petitioner in the matter. On the entry tax issue, the Congress State president Subhash Shirodkar made the claim that the entry tax was a contributory factor to the BJP’s recent rout in Karnataka. While that may be debatable, the fact that both Goa’s neighbouring states are now ruled by the Congress, as stances hardened on the entry tax issue, ought not to be lost on Shirodkar and the Goa Congress.
But the big question is ~ is there more to Goa’s unfolding politics of food than meets the eye?
A sustainable destination
Dr Joe D’SouzaThe bogie of Goa being ‘Parashuram bhoomi’ and hence all slaughter of cattle in the State be banned, is absurd. Hanumanth Parab of Govansh Raksha Abhiyan(GRA), who has filed a petition at the Goa bench of the Mumbai High Court, on behalf of his organization, has pleaded that animal slaughter carried out at the Goa Meat Complex at Usgao is illegal as under-age and diseased animals are slaughtered under the patronage of the Government of Goa and hence, the court has to intervene and stop this illicit practice.
While he has a strong point to request the court to stop the illegal slaughter of animals at the Goa Meat Complex, his demand to ensure that no animal is slaughtered for beef production, exhibits a fanatical mindset directed at harassing beef consumers. Why do questions of a ban on cattle slaughter or imposition of a belief system emerge, every time a BJP government is in power? Religious fanatics do little or nothing to prevent cattle form rummaging in toxic waste, eating plastics and decayed food stuff, haphazardly dumped all over the State. The Govansh Raksha Manch (GRM) must be sued by the BJP government in Goa for their total neglect of cattle in the State. The GRM is an NGO collecting public money to work for the greater good of Goa in the field of animal welfare. The misuse of this trust by GRM and exploiting the justice system to deprive Goans of their nutritional diet is deceiving society.
The GRM would do well if they could prevent cattle straying dangerously on Goan roads, affecting their lives as well as those driving on Goan roads. Every road accident involving an animal as victim should involve the GRM as a party to the crime, as must as GRM should be held guilty for cows dying with 40 kgs of plastic in their rumen.
Parrikar and his cabinet ministers must challenge this NGO with a highly communal agenda directed against the good of society at large. India is a state brimming with pseudo religiosity and misconceived secularism. Why is the Govansh Raksha Manch getting involved in improving the living conditions of cattle stock in particular and animals in general? The quality of cattle sheds and the fodder supplied to animals is dismally low in nutritional content. Besides, is it not hypocritical to drink cow milk, that deprives calves of their basic requirements? Is Parashuram bhoomi a place then where calves are denied milk, cattle die on the roads and feed on garbage? Is it preferable to allow animals to die of neglect, starvation, disease involving daily torture than being used as food by fellow human beings?
Society has misplaced values and a dubious dog-in-the-manger policy. We allow food to rot in the godown rather than feed the poor and hungry. Corruption, fanaticism, fundamentalism, where ‘my way or the highway’ persists, has ruined us. Political power and economic bullying is used to manipulate and destroy basic livelihoods. We require NGOs who will look into holistic and sustainable development of society, free of forced religiosity, adversely affecting belief systems and ways of lives of their neighbours. Irrespective of religious beliefs, we all believe cleanliness is next to Godliness. Let us endeavor to make Goa green and clean ~ a pleasant habitat for all forms of lives in a sustainable manner.
10th May 2013
Stressed Out StudentsGoa may not display any significantly different trends in student stress levels, but it should be a matter of concern for all that Goa is the fifth highest among small states in suicide rates. In 2010, the suicide rate for Goa was increasing faster than the national average, which indicates that while earlier the State was happily placed with respect to many other states in the north that comfort is now turning cold with the graph rising for Goa as well.
The recent tragic death of a Class IX student just promoted to Class X is not an isolated incident but a tragic and sad development that reflects a trend that should cause great concern to educationists, administrators and parents. As a society rapidly embracing competitive consumerism that has produced unavailable working parents, stressful, increasingly degraded urban lifestyles minus the institutional support mechanisms of similarly placed western nations, the suicide rate in India is one of the highest in the world ~ 40 per cent of the victims are adolescents. This sectional factor rises by 8 per cent each year.
In 2010, 317 under-14 year olds took their lives due to failure in examinations, while the same caused 2057 in the 15-29 age group to choose a similar tragic end in India. In Goa, the situation is not any different. Psychologists and counselors, taking note of the alarming trend in Goa, point to the many societal factors, including the instant gratification and instant solutions that the young seek in the technology driven world bequeathed to them. A series of complex emotional, psychological, family and societal factors are in play, but what should be of concern to parents, educators and nurturers is the undue stress that unfair parental/school/teacher expectations place on children in the examination system. A Goa MP argued not long ago against the examination system that in India is a dismal system of learning by rote and memorization.
Public examination levels at Class X and XII are major sources of stress, due to the vast portions of the curriculum young students are expected to mug up and memorize. With curriculum and examination portions increasing with the competition between different boards of education and between schools/colleges and parents and state governments, student stress and mental health is the unfortunate casualty of this mounting load. In other words, our children face the brunt and burden of the unfair expectations and aspirations of the adults who decide their fate.
In choosing to raise standards and bring the curriculum on par with other urban centres to increase the competitiveness of Goan students, mechanisms to help students cope with the pressure need to be additionally factored in. Underage students are still being permitted to enter the school system in the State (below six years in Std I) and take public examinations when a strict criteria and age-related coping abilities are understood neither by institutions, teachers nor parents. This results in underage children having to cope with levels of math and science that their minds are not yet developed to take in. In addition to the confusing medium of instruction changes that students in Goa have had to deal with from Nursery to Class X, concessions announced by the government in the interest of the students, i.e. permitting the dropping of some difficult subjects for public examinations, are in the main not being implemented by mainstream schools.
Emphasis is still being placed on students/schools/colleges that excel academically and despite announcements to the contrary the system has little sympathy for students who fall in the middle and bottom of the group. Much more needs to be done to correct this skewed approach to education so that our children to have the future they deserve in all spheres of their lives.
Protect Goa’s Tigers
Roger D’SouzaThere is an urgent need to protect tigers in Goa and hence an appeal to all! Please voice your support to protect tigers in Goa and our western ghats! Last week a tiger was seen on camera in Goa. Many vested forces have sought to dispel the existence of Goan tigers and the mining lobbies have over the years mined in the tiger habitat!
While the House was debating on protecting Goa’s tigers and forests, Pratapsing Rane tried to make nothing of the evidence that there are tigers in Goa; he was determined to make claims that the tiger seen in the camera recordings was a “visitor.” He claims 18,000 people live in the Mhadei sanctuary and people from Sattari make their living from cashew plantations inside the sanctuary.
What we Goans have always stood by about the tiger population in Goa has finally been confirmed! Without any further delay the Goa government and the Government of India should declare the Mhadei Tiger Reserve and protect and conserve an intrinsic part of our western ghats, its forests and biodiversity. The 2010 National Tiger Assessment estimated the total population of tigers in India as 1,706. Tiger occupied forests in India were classified into 6 landscape complexes: (a) Shivalik Hills and the Gangetic Plain, (b) Central India (c) Eastern Ghats, (d) Western Ghats, (e) North-Eastern Hills and Brahmaputra Plains, and (f) Sunderbans. This exhaustive study indicated that better protected tiger source sites, especially tiger reserves, have maintained viable tiger populations, however, the area occupied by tigers outside protected areas has decreased considerably. This demonstrates the need for securing corridors for tigers to move between source sites. Interestingly the then Goa Government intentionally didn’t participate in the assessment as they didn’t want Goa’s tiger population to be counted because of mining interests.
Though Goa has witnessed several direct and indirect evidence of tiger presence, in the past the state forest department and government were reluctant to declare Goa as a tiger habitat. According to anti-mining activist Ramesh Gauns, declaration of a tiger reserve in the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary would affect the open cast iron ore mining industry operating in the vicinity. In June 2011 the Centre’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh asked the then Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat to submit a proposal to declare Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in the state as a tiger reserve. Mhadei, situated in Sattari Taluka of North Goa, is a "contiguous tiger landscape" to Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka to its south-east and to Anshi Dandeli Tiger Reserve to its south which has around 35 tigers. Jairam Ramesh also referred to a study carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India, which said that the protected areas of Goa and their contiguous forests in Karnataka and Maharashtra are possibly some of the best potential tiger habitats in the western ghats region and they need protection.
The contiguous forests of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra encompassing the wildlife sanctuaries of Goa, the Anshi tiger reserve and reserve forests of Karnataka and the reserve forests of Dodamarg in Maharashtra have been acknowledged as tiger conservation units (TCU) Mark II by WWF International. This region is part of the western ghats landscape and is now regarded as a global biodiversity hotspot as well as an area of high endemism by Conservation International.
9th May 2013
What's Your Beef, Then?The recent High Court order has had a crippling effect on the functioning of the Goa Meat Complex, with its ramifications felt on thousands of people dependent on beef in their diet, besides scores of eateries and traders who are placed in a quandary. The greater surprise however is the phlegmatic attitude of the administrators who have failed to work out a mechanism to tide over the crisis despite the court lifting the ban on slaughter of animals at the GMC. The common man, at the last rung of the consumer ladder, is as usual at the receiving end, now compelled to shell out double the money for the same quantity of meat which was available just a fortnight ago!
The lifting of the ban on slaughter of animals at the abattoir comes with a rider than only animals from within the State be used for slaughter. This is akin to the Shakespearean drama where Shylock was permitted to have Antonio’s pound of flesh, but had to ensure he did so without a drop of blood being spilled. Such a paradox is pointed to by many, especially as there aren’t sufficient number of locally available animals to feed the large consumer segment. Even the few locally raised bovine creatures are unwilling to be put under the knife by their owners. So, the government must step in to ensure that the intention of the lifting of the court directive on slaughter, which ought to have alleviated the woes of the consumers, comes to pass.
Fish is an alternative, but not a viable option for the common man who is reeling under inflationary food prices. The high cost of fish in recent months has diverted many fish eating members of the minority community to substitute a fish diet with meats due to its comparative cheaper cost and extended sustainability on the menu. In the prevailing scenario, the indifferent bystanders would respond with a no-bread-eat-cakes mentality, even arguing that meat-eaters ought to switch to a vegetarian life-style. Not that the latter is cheap either. But whatever the so-called "health benefits" of the latter, the fact is that cuisine is a deeply personal choice and that's how it should be.
Even a week after the High Court lifting the ban on cattle slaughter at GMC albeit with stringent conditions, there is no beef in the markets, with traders complaining that as long as the ban on bringing in cattle from neighbouring states for slaughter continues, beef will continue to be a scarce commodity. So, where is the end to this imbroglio?
The genesis of the crisis emanated following a petition filed by an NGO 'Govansh Raksha Abhiyan' whose members one can safely assume are neither beef eaters nor animal rights activists. What, then, motivated them in filing the petition in the High Court? Or, were they linked to some ideology-based group? The people of Goa ought to know the names and background of each of the members attached to this organization and what their motivations are. Why is this group so keen to impose a ban on cattle slaughter for beef?
The government has in the past bent backwards to appease the mining lobby by offering largess to the sector despite it being held guilty of loot by commissions and committees. Why is there lack of equal empathy to those dependent on a beef diet and business, despite the fact that we have a government supported by members of the minority community? The non availability of beef has placed the Catholic community in particular in a quandary, compelling many to opt for unhealthy eating practices of the non-vegetarian kind.
The issue cannot be allowed to be dragged on. Any further delay may prompt the detractors to accuse the government of being systematically lethargic. Surely, there is a way out. Such a predicament ought not to have been allowed to occur in the first place. The BJP, which rode to power riding substantial minority votes, must not only be sensitive to its supporters but also appear to be so. The silence of the minority BJP MLAs is strange ~ unless, of course, they have been converted into vegetarian health freaks under the party's spell!
A lost paradise
By Peter FernandesThe quest of man is to find peace and tranquillity, as the mystery of life unfolds for him, through love, and friendship with fellowmen and God his Creator. In order to secure his goal, man sincerely slogs his whole life, but often engages in vain things. Indeed, material wealth is important, but not absolute to fulfil the quest of man for purposeful living. Until this date, most people, and especially those of modern society, are unable to pinpoint the object of yearning, neither are they able to provide means to achieve the desired goal, which has put humankind in a quagmire of uncertainty and distasteful living. In the process, man has accumulated too much baggage, which bogs him down, and makes it hard to let go, despite knowing he is on a wrong path, or drifting away from purposeful existence. The tragedy is that modern society is not equipped to help, but only aggravate the situation. This scenario is very distressful and frightful.
The cry of many Goans for Goanness is the cry for a lost paradise. The uniqueness of Goa that attracted the world was peaceful living in a diverse community, along with nature and true devotion to God. That is lost to greed and selfishness. Visitors came from far and wide to partake of this unique gift, which Goa offered joyfully and freely. Can anyone argue otherwise? Isn’t Goa a lost paradise? What Goa offers today is violence, robbery, murder, garbage, polluted rivulets, and greenery destroyed by miners and builders. The cost of living has high-rocketed in the span of a few years, which the ordinary Goan cannot cope with, especially with the rise in prices of the most basic commodities. Peace loving Goans who left for wealthy countries, in the process perhaps forgot the purpose of living, or could it be that they endure it with great longing to return, but are unable to. Who is responsible? This is a conflict of reason and materialism; which is why people have to be mindful of this trend imposed by modern society.
Paradise is lost to greed and selfishness, and is replaced with agony and pain, alienating people from one another. Many Goans are sobbing with a feeling of nostalgia, and many others are confused, because they are unable to decipher the loss. Goa could have paved a way for modern society by holding on to its values, and at the same time, embracing modernity with equanimity. The comforts of the modern society are a delusion equated to happiness and fulfilment, which is not true. They only generate pleasure, but on the other hand create a void and longing for purposeful living. Take for example communication, which is the hallmark of modern society, but it has instead distanced people from each other. Modernity has strained relationships, friendships, and devotion to God. Can we restore the lost paradise as individuals and as a community? Learn the purpose of life, and live a purpose filled life, rather than going after vanity of vanities.
8th May 2013
Heritage At RiskA Unesco report cautioning Australia against opening swathes of its coastline to mining, tourism and development should serve as a warning to Goa which has shown a poor track record on environment protection and heritage. Putting Australia into its ‘sin bin’, the UN has threatened to downgrade the heritage status of the iconic Great Barrier Reef if Australia fails to rein in rampant coastal development that is endangering the natural wonder. Green parties and environmental groups like WWF have chided the Australian government, driven by the lure of billions of dollars of overseas investments, for putting its heritage at risk.
It’s ironic, really. The world over, heritage has been the biggest magnet for tourism footfalls. Every day hundreds of travellers trail up 2430 metres in the Peruvian Andes to soak in the remarkable ruins of the lost empire of the Incas at Machu Picchu. Protected by its remoteness from the advancing Spanish conquistadors and discovered by the West as late as 1911, the 15th century Peruvian archaeological site, like the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the temples of Angkor Wat are defining images of world heritage and travel.
It is therefore alarming to learn that the Goa government will push ahead with the four-lane NH-4A through Old Goa, even though the proposed Ribandar bypass violates the guidelines set down under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act. PWD Minister Sudin Dhavlikar claims the highway project was conceived and set in motion 10 years ago, while the 300 metres restriction around protected monuments has come into force only last year. Nothing is further from the truth, as this newspaper reported. The Archaeological Survey of India has made clear that the restrictions around protected monuments have been in force since 1992. Moreover, the Goa government has not even bothered to put its case before the National Monuments Authority, though the law requires it to do so, given that the Ribandar corridor is within 200 metres of the Basilica de Bom Jesus. The churches and convents of Old Goa were designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1986. They are among the 29 sites in India that are on the UN heritage list, with the biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats getting the Unesco-protected tag just last year. It seems rather ironic that the Goa government has done little to protect Goa’s world heritage site from haphazard development and real estate vultures, while the Government of India is lobbying intensely for 34 other heritage monuments and sites—including Mumbai’s iconic Victorian art deco buildings—to get accepted by Unesco.
Politicians in Goa have perfected the art of verbal spin at public functions without the spine or least intention to see any commitments through. It was a pleasant surprise to have Speaker Rajendra Arlekar and Environment Minister Alina Saldanha rooting for cycling in Goa to “protect the environment”. The sentiment is noble, but where are the cycling lanes? Would the Speaker and minister be prepared to push these through with their government? Several proposals for cycling lanes and waterway taxis have been put forward by citizens groups, but all they’ve got from every government, is a polite brush off. The riverside city of Panjim is ideally placed for the alternative modes of transport and pedestrian zones, given its compact size. A cycling lane from Dona Paula to Panjim with a comprehensive traffic plan would get hundreds of children to school and college and keep loads of vehicles off the roads at crucial school start and break time. Launch services from Dona Paula to Panjim, Panjim to Ribandar would also work wonders for the public. So far the government and its jaded bureaucrats have been dismissive of these ideas that have become so popular in European cities and towns. On the other hand, the public is being compelled to give up its rights to bigger and bigger lobbies and interests like the casinos that have taken over the Mandovi River and the tourism lobby that is increasingly encroaching on city spaces.
Terrorist or Martyr?
By Dr Joe D’Souza
We may be on this good earth, we all know what goes up must come down and thus, what goes round will also come around. In Science, the laws, rules and equations are the same the world over, but the applications of Science depends on the mindset of its polity and its people. Hence, nuclear energy can be used constructively to create reservoirs, dams or electricity and in medicine too, but it can be used to wipe off humanity itself from the face of the earth.
As much as Science has been misused by those in governance in the countries of the world, the ‘human mind’, its conscience and the soul of societies have been manipulated to serve the interests of those in power, with the common man becoming victims to the evil designs of those in power. Political science of today is a game of manipulation, of calculation of values or aspirations of the society of today. No doubt, in the world of today, a terrorist; declared and condemned by the judiciary in one country is considered a hero, martyr and a saint by a neighboring country. Laws of science, reason and justice are overwhelmed by emotional or selfish leanings.
For 23 years those in governance have claimed that Sarabjit Singh lost his way and strayed into Pakistan. Since he was jailed, like thousands of Indians across the globe, for various reasons right or wrong, his case for release as a case of mistaken identity became a high profile diplomatic exercise. What baffles humanity is the fact that Sarabjit was made a victim by the Indian approach to the problem, which should have taken up with as much more zeal, fervor and anxiety like the case and fate of thousands of fishermen, border forces soldiers and dedicated Indian patriots, butchered, beheaded and languishing till death in prisons across the globe.
To add a nail to the coffin of the ‘aam admi’ woes, the Indian politicians spared no time to declare Sarabjit alone as a martyr, patriot deserving state recognition. The fate of prisoners languishing in foreign jails would be soon forgotten as of now. People of India are largely idiotic, said Justice MN Katju, and this holds good for the people of Pakistan too. We must realize that Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru are terrorists condemned to death by our judiciary, but according to the prevalent sentiments on the other side of the border these men are patriots, martyrs and role models to millions of people living in Pakistan as well as other so-called Islamic nations. Hence, unlike Science, in the logic of politics, Sarabjit a martyr declared by the Indian politicians, is a treacherous terrorist, confirmed and condemned to death by the Pakistani judiciary.
How can we ever find a meeting point between nations, if we cannot even define a simple equation in politics where a terrorist is a terrorist anywhere and everywhere and refrain from double standards and double speaking? Science says every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Love will breed love as much as hate will generate hate.
3rd May 2013
Tiger, tiger burning brightThough villagers, environmentalists and forest personnel for years have maintained and sighted tigers in Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries, the politics of economics has thus far ensured that Goa has shied away from adopting the Indian national animal as its own and reserving a space for it in our sanctuaries. With mining ~ the industry was squarely blamed for the denial syndrome when it came to tiger presence in Goa ~ on the back foot, tigers might just find their place in the Goa sun.
The latest fillip that this mighty beast got towards ensuring its pugmark footprint in Goa was the reported identification by tiger expert Dr K Ulhas Karanth that the tiger caught on the camera trap in late April by the Forest Department was an animal unique to Goa, its stripes unmatched among the 600-odd identified tigers in the region. This, it would appear, puts paid to theories that the animal caught on camera, was a “visitor” from the neighbouring forests and could bring the process of attempting to upgrade the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary into a tiger reserve that much closer. Wildlife census counts identified the presence of the big cat as two in 1993 and five in 1997 and 2002.
In 2009, the picture of a dead tiger that got snared in a wild boar trap created a furore in the Mhadei area, buttressing the claims of environmentalists. The latest identification will undoubtedly lend further weight to the current Forest Department dispensation which is now keen to register the presence of the tiger.
Conservator of forests, Richard de Souza has said tiger presence has been found in all of Goa’s Western Ghat sanctuaries (excepting Cotigao) that are almost contiguous with reserves and sanctuaries in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
That the current government permitted in February a detailed study to be undertaken under Dr Karanth is indicative of the pulls and pressures of politics and economics in the area. Attempts by former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in 2011 to urge Goa to declare 500 square kilometres in Mhadei as a tiger reserve was pretty much cold shouldered by the previous Congress regime and the presence of mines in and around the sanctuaries are seen as the single largest factor for this.
Let alone its upgradation to a tiger reserve and even higher protected status, political opposition still continues to reverberate around the 1999 declaration of the Mhadei (208.48 square kilometres) and Netravali (211.05 square kilometres) wildlife sanctuaries. Both these were declared sanctuaries during a brief period of President’s Rule, under the persuasion of then Governor Lt Gen. (retd) JFR Jacob and a forest dispensation headed by Richard de Souza in the teeth of stiff political opposition.
Tied up with the tiger-presence debate is the current fresh standoff over the Union Ministry of Environment’s recommendation, in an affidavit before the Supreme Court, for a 10 km buffer zone around Goa’s six wildlife sanctuaries and one national park covering 755.31square kilometres, including Mhadei and Netravali. Likely to be contested is the state’s own October 2012 cabinet decision for a five to 10 year staggered stoppage of 33 mines falling in its own recommended site-specific one kilometre buffer zone
While two committees appointed by the state were unable to earlier establish or agree on a buffer zone because of the many influential mining leases in the equation, after matters came to a head on the mining front, the state has now recommended no fresh leases within a two kilometre buffer zone, a kilometre less than the three kilometres that environmentalists wished for. Contrast this with the infamous now-scrapped Regional Plan 2011 that sought to revive 63 mines around the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary alone before a public outcry saw the plan dropped. With the K Kasturirangan committee now identifying 37 per cent of the Western Ghats area as ecologically sensitive across several states including Goa, and Goa’s own Western Ghats area awaiting the UNESCO World Heritage tag, the environment v/s mining/development debate is likely to take on a Centre v/s State hue. Where the political, mining and citizen groups within Goa situate themselves with regard to this will be critical to our future.
Celvi Fernandes Tellis“I swear in the name of God that what I say is the truth and nothing but the truth”. This is the oath taken by many as they embark on the path of obligation, assistance and duty as a witness in the Indian justice system. But how many of them can or will conform to the earnest vow he/she takes?
Witnesses are seen by many as the eyes and ears of justice. Most prosecution cases are built on their attestation. They pave the way for the accused to be penalized and fairness to be meted out to the victim. But often justice is gravely compromised. The twin monsters of money and muscle in many cases, especially in those involving influential sections of society, lead to witnesses turning hostile and retracting their early statements. The BMW hit-and-run case where there were constant flip flops by the lead witness, the Jessica Lal case where 32 of the prosecution’s witnesses recanted or the Best bakery case where the witnesses alleged they were misguided by the social activist, are some of the well known examples where they have changed sides.
The lamentable situation in the Indian judicial system is that it does not have a proper witness protection law. In fact they are treated shamefully, tossed around mercilessly and harassed by officials, so ordinary citizens are hesitant to be witnesses. There are cases where adjournment after adjournment are sought, either to tire the witness out or to buy enough time to change their standpoint. The snail-paced movement of legal processes doesn’t help either. Witnesses in most high profile cases are discouraged, intimidated or coerced by the accused or defence. Some of them turn adverse. Some of them vanish. Some of them are eliminated. Hostile witnesses leads to a mockery of the judicial system and gross miscarriage of justice.
The Supreme Court has already expressed alarm at the large number of witnesses turning hostile. India should take a leaf out of the laws of its Western counterparts. Many countries have comprehensive witness protection programs. New laws to protect witnesses and the sanctity of their testaments are the need of the hour, which may vary from giving them a new identity/relocation in cases of organized crimes to physical bodyguards for protection in others. The Bill should assure dignity of witnesses and free them from any form of threats or abuses so that he/she can participate in procedures with least apprehension. Funds should be allocated by the central and state governments for the same. The central and state governments along with the law ministry and judiciary should put forth a mechanism to aid the free and fearless functioning of legal channels and execution of justice. Victims have been wronged once by society. Let them not be wronged again by the system.
2nd May 2013
Taxing Logic?With the government treasury short of around Rs 900 crore that usually comes in from mining, the Goa government's resource mobilization moves have extended to other industries and sectors.
Protesting volubly against increased charges for land conversion, infrastructure tax and registration duties under amendments passed in the State Assembly, the real estate sector projects that costs will rise by Rs 3000 per sq m to Rs 6000 per sq m for buyers, taking a 90 sq m two-bedroom apartment to Rs 70 lakh. While many feel this is an exaggeration, there is no doubt that there will be some measure of cost escalation. Some say we Goans, as a society, have to decide whether that's a price worth paying for the end of the rape of our natural resources.
Well, whilst many would agree that this may be a price worth paying, the issue is that this resource mobilization is perceived to be targeted towards government sops and freebies aimed at garnering votes and is a result of the administration refusing to seriously look at rightsizing government. And that's what makes it objectionable. If the sops are withdrawn and downsizing/rightsizing our bloated bureaucracy attempted in a transparent and logical way, the revenues needed to be generated would fall dramatically and thereby the escalation of cost would be marginal, is the argument.
Protesting in strong language that the government's hikes would cripple the real estate sector causing it to go the mining way, the real estate industry's chagrin found an echo in the political space as well. It's a debatable matter whether the new charges would put the built-up housing market products any further out of the reach of the ordinary Goan who anyway is finding it difficult to have a house in his/her homeland, though that is the industry's contention. For all intents and purposes, the ordinary Goan is already written out of the new local housing picture at the prices that are sought by the industry for units even prior to the latest proposed hikes.
So, if the government mops up resources to the tune of Rs 240 cr from an industry already catering to the rich from outside the State, it must be weighed against the fact that the current dispensation has thus far not implemented suggestions to have speculative, absentee and second home owners pay a higher occupancy tax ~ a move that might have acted as a dampener to speculative purchases in Goa that comprise the majority slab of new buyers. An estimated 23 per cent of housing units are unoccupied, with around 60,000 of them estimated to be holiday homes.
Infratructure taxes, a green cess and new VAT taxes will undoubtedly have an inflationary impact on the economy, and the increased burden is beginning to cause resentment against the doles being handed out on the one hand and the increased taxation on the other. Questions are already beginning to surface if the government is not indulging in some sophisticated financial jugglery, ostensibly giving with one hand only to take away with the other ~ power/electricity itself costing the Goan consumer an estimated Rs 100 cr more this year. For all the noise made about government recruitment under a previous regime, the bureaucracy continues to balloon, creating a huge hole in government spending that is borne by the public.
The point has been made according to one analysis that salary and pension bills eat into 35 per cent of the State's revenues (an annual bill of Rs 2357 cr), while taxes have been hiked by 26 per cent last year and a further 14 per cent this year, hitting the tourism, construction sectors andtrading. The latter inevitably hits the common man. The government will argue that they have compulsions. With mining down and a huge wage bill to pay each month, it has been scraping the bottom of the barrel to raise finances. But surely some financial prudence and austerity is called for? If the expenditures on government-sponsored festivals ~ heritage or otherwise are anything to go by, extravagance is conspicuous. Further, there is no sign that the policy of previous governments of treating the administration as an employer rather than a service provider is easing up. Tough times ahead.
Justice JS Verma ~ A trailblazer
Albertina AlmeidaFrom the ban of irrational and hazardous drugs in 1993, to the sterling Vishaka judgement setting guidelines for preventing and addressing sexual harassment at the workplace, and other path breaking judgements during his tenure as Chief Justice in 1997-1998, to his role as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chief Justice J S Verma blazed a trail. Particularly in indicting the governance in Gujarat 2002 and providing support to a rape and violence survivor to see the light at the end of the tunnel of justice in a case of communal riot related sexual violence, to the report on changes necessary in the law to deal with sexual violence.
He also gave concerned Goans as much importance as Indians from the rest of the country. He took the views from Goa as seriously as views from elsewhere in the country. At the age of 80, Justice Verma sat through day long deliberations and that too really long days. He was amazing to say the least. That was the calibre of a man who was once the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India and thereafter the National Human Rights Commission chief. That was the man who though no more will live on in our hearts.
Not long ago, Justice Verma was in Goa to speak in the Good Governance Series of International Centre, Goa on the role of the judiciary in good governance. He is reported to have remarked that it is time we do not confine ourselves to good governance but humane governance, as that is what is provided for in the Constitution. This statement was in fact reflective of his interpretation of the Constitution in much that was decided against that touchstone.
It would do well for the present and past judiciary to take a leaf from Justice Verma’s book on simplicity and accessibility, on gender sensitivity, on his remarkable effort to ‘lift the veil” Solomon style and get to the root of matters, as reflected in the Report on Gujarat Riots under his chairmanship of NHRC. The final words of the report ran thus: The Commission has had occasion to stress that it is essential to heal the wounds and to look to a future of peace and harmony in Gujarat. The Commission has, however, added that the pursuit of these high objectives must be based on justice and the upholding of the Constitution and the laws of the land. It therefore remains fundamentally important, in such circumstances, that those who are responsible for the promotion of communal harmony and the maintenance of law and order ~ whether in the political or administrative leadership ~ should discharge their duties in the present and future in accordance with that Constitution and the relevant statutory provisions, or be answerable for such acts of omission or commission that result in the violation of the law and the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of their fellow human beings.
30th Apr 2013
The Wages of CrimeIs murder ~ often seen as the ultimate crime ~ justifiable in the pursuit of a higher purpose? Is the life of a disabled person far more easily dispensable? Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment first published in instalments in 1866 is one of the best known literary works to explore these complex moral issues and the human capacity to rationalise the most debased acts. The proceedings in the South Goa District and Sessions Court on Monday offered us a defining image of crime and payback when Judge Nutan Sardessai sentenced Janardhan Kokre to life for the murder of Dilip Naik, 42, in 2011.
Kokre had kidnapped the mentally challenged Naik, killed him, decapitated and dismembered his body which he later set on fire in his jeep in Mollem, to make identification impossible. The motive ~ reminiscent of high profile insurance frauds in the West ~ was to pass off Naik’s body as his own, so his wife could collect on the 19 life insurance policies Kokre had calculatedly initiated five months ahead of the murder. Modern forensics and some good police detective work, for a change, caught up with the Ponda killer. Though defence lawyers, as is their brief to extract the maximum concessions from a court, argued that the killer deserved leniency, given he was a “first time” offender, Judge Sardessai demonstrated rightly that Kokre had no case for sympathy. Her order described “the cold and calculated manner” in which a mentally challenged man had been enticed to a very brutal and undeserving death. It was in fact the victim’s family that showed moral fibre. They said they were happy with the court’s verdict, though the accused deserved the death penalty for the barbaric and premeditated killing.
The death penalty has been much in debate in recent weeks with more political and civil society voices lobbying for harsher laws against rapists, and more particularly child rapists. On Monday, the four-year old rape victim from Gansor, Madhya Pradesh died of a cardiac arrest at the Care Hospital in Nagpur after a week in coma. Her case is the latest to weigh in on the argument that perpetrators of this debased a crime must be dealt with the most severe of punishments as a deterrent. The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj favours the death penalty for child rape. The CPM too said it was open to the idea because the recent cases showed there was something “seriously wrong” with Indian society which has little fear for the law. Those opposed to the death penalty for any form or degree of crime argue to the contrary, that taking a life for a life is neither a deterrent nor the route a civilised and progressive society should take recourse to.
The UPA government which is under immense pressure to amend the recently passed anti-rape law to include a clause under which child rapists could be awarded the death penalty, will have to weigh the many complex factors involved in this issue. One is the argument that changing the laws alone will change nothing if we do not have a police system that implements them or a judicial system that delivers justice expeditiously. Some rape cases are not booked for years. Activists have also argued that in cases where the death penalty is involved, the stringent evidence required could retard the process of justice for the victims of rape. Under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Violence Act that was passed last year, raping a child carries a jail term of seven years to life. Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code too has no provision for child rape. But given that 64 per cent of all rapes in India involve children, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the Centre may well be moved to make the existing laws far more stringent, or even bring in the death penalty for a crime that is becoming more and more common.
Murder at sea?
Peter AndradeThe coast guard has finally confirmed their vessel was the culprit in the sinking of a Goan fishing vessel which has resulted in one death and six missing. I remember a few years ago, the coast guard arrested a Chinese flag mother vessel Hai Feng 838 along with eight Indian joint venture fishing vessels, for indulging in illegal fishing activity in Indian waters, a few miles outside Karwar port.
The coast guard brought these vessels to Mormugao port within 12 hours and created huge media hype that a Chinese vessel was caught. The vessel was brought in around 3 pm and the master and crew were produced before the JMFC, Vasco around midnight. The master was immediately released on bail while the crew was released due to illegal detention by the coast guard. All this in 24 hours. The case was registered as Dy Commandant, Coast Guard vs. Master, Hai Feng 838. The case was a flop and the ship was released within a month.
In recent times, the Italian marines case is also well known, where the ship was promptly identified and brought to Kochi. What is surprising to note in the present Goa case is that that coast guard did not know if the ship belonged to them. Was their district headquarters at Mormugao not aware of what happened? The fishing vessel was cut into two across its breadth, so the coast guard defense that their vessel was anchored and the fishing vessel came and collided with them does not hold water.
There is gross negligence by the commander of the coast guard ship. Their ship is supposed to have radars, a bridge watch at all times and more alertness when the vessel is moving on patrol duty during the night.
Why can’t the coast guard be active as in the Hai Feng 838 case and Italian marines case? Why has the ship commander not been arrested for murder and produced before the JMFC during the last 48 hours? The six fishermen for whom the vessel did not stop for are dead. Do they think Goans are fools, uneducated and unaware of their rights? They come into Goa, grab our land, build a huge housing complex and seek more land everywhere on security grounds. Who is a security threat to whom? Goans are fed up of the Navy and coast guard; they could not stop terrorists from entering Mumbai and here in Goa they stop and thrash Goan fishermen. It is high time Goans say good-bye to the Navy and coast guard, but these forces expect Goans to leave Goa.
28th Apr 2013
Society in DistressYet another rape was reported last fortnight in Goa. This time, the victim is a 15-year-old girl from Assanora. The disturbing aspect is that rapes are now pre-planned in groups. The crimes can no longer be pinned on immigrants ~ the latter who have traditionally been blamed for the ills of Goan society ~ but local boys who not only were born, raised and nurtured in Goa, but ironically were familiar with the victim. This then is the greatest challenge facing women today ~ to identify a potential rapist amongst people she trusts.
The victim in question was summoned to the boy’s residence on the pretext of his mother wanting to speak to her, but on entering the house, the boy locked the door and she was forced to consume some liquid which rendered her unconscious. What ails the deviant male psyche one might ask?
The quest is to rape by whatever means. In the absence of exemplary conviction and punishment, perpetrators (as seen in the 7-year-old rape of the Vasco girl), appear to garner more courage and resort to even more devious means to commit the crime, even resorting to threat and blackmail to further exploit the victim long after the crime was first committed. The victim eventually revealed the incident to her family following persistent harassment for further sexual favours. Unfortunately, more and more girls fall victims. The State has in fact witnessed a sudden spurt in anti-women crimes in recent weeks ~ rapes, molestation, kidnapping, even murder. There was even an instance of a policeman barging into a home and molesting a female in the guise of conducting a “search.” NGOs and women’s groups are yet to take the menace seriously. It was left to a lad based outside Goa to even contemplate the idea of supplying canisters of pepper spray as a defense mechanism to women. But carrying canisters every time they step out of the house, even if it means visiting the immediate neighbour, is not a viable option at all times when gangs of perpetrators continue to scout around for a potential prey.
There’s an urgent need for a change in mindset amongst the male, where a male witness to any women-related crime is shamed at his indifference. As of now, no sustained effort is made by anybody to educate young girls on how to deal with rape, potential rape or molestation. Tragically, Goa is moving in a retrograde direction. Must every woman eventually have to move out of their home only accompanied by a brother, a husband or a father, lest they are attacked? The declining women’s ratio is further poised to accentuate the menace, if serious corrective action is delayed.
On a priority, all women must be motivated with proper guidance to report to the police in the event of rape. Women must be educated on the legal as well as the required evidence that would be demanded in a court of law.
A further boost would be to enlighten women as to how to get clinching evidence. The police on their part have shown a lackadaisical attitude to crack rape cases. This has to change. Victims must be guided by the police in trapping blackmailers seeking further sexual favours by recording conversations, preplanning a swoop on the adventurous hunters and catching them in the act. This will result in prompt justice, instead of endless humiliation to the victim even in the quest of justice.
Be aware of the weathercocks!
Peter FernandesThe weathercock is a vane often in the figure of a cockeral, mounted so as to turn freely with the wind to show its direction. However, it is unbecoming for humans to duplicate the behavior of the weathercock, a tendency to veer in the direction of the wind of socio/political change. When the winds suddenly shift on social values, the weathercocks waste no time in proclaiming their newfound passion. Humans live in a society, governed by will and reason, and when a person conveniently changes the manner, it speaks ill of that person. Ironically, it is true of our politicians, who opportunely say, “There are no permanent friends and foes in politics.” Consequently, most of the politicians of Goa are like weathercocks. They easily change their feathers to withstand the make-believe political climate only for selfish gain, and no other reason. Accordingly, most of the people of Goa are unable to detect their motives, because, while they are in the opposition, they are totally with the people ~ their feathers correspond to the people’s temperature. Their feathers alter the moment they seize power and hold the seat of command.
Mopa airport has precipitated a change in weather in Goa once again, which most people detest, but politicians are comfortable, because they are weathercocks. However, the rooster of Varca, who gladly sits on the two leaves (off and on) that have no roots, does not mind disturbing the people at odd hours, hoping that people will wake-up once again to his midnight cry. He is in the habit of changing feathers too frequently that he has forgotten the time and season. Previously, the rooster from Varca misled the people of Goa, as he rallied them behind him against Mopa airport. Sadly, people did not realize that he is a weathercock. As soon as he was elected to the Goa Legislative Assembly, he boldly said, “Goa can have two airports.” Meanwhile, the ordinary people lost their sleep, because they are not accustomed to the constant change in weather. Left out of the political arena, he is now restless. Ignorantly, he is disturbing the people yet again.
The present government should realize that people elected them to power not for their merits, but because Goans were very uncomfortable with the previous unreliable weathercocks. If this government continues to disturb the people with false sounds of alarm, people will not forgive them. The present chief minister already holds the title of “U” turns. He has flip-flopped on several issues, on different occasions. During his previous reign, he antagonized the peace loving people of Goa based on religious affiliations. He seems to have changed his feathers to keep himself within the pulse of the people this time. However, it is doubtful that this change is genuine, because they are all weathercocks. Why have Mopa airport? Will it take another election for a change of heart for the chief minister? People of Goa are tired of running after these weathercocks, and they should learn quickly to live by reason and fortitude for the common good.
“Goans for Dabolim only” is a true voice springing from the depth of despair for all the wrong inflicted on this peace loving community. People of Goa, this is a good opportunity to come together under one banner, “Goans for Dabolim only” without any vested interest. This pressure group should lead this movement to a logical conclusion for the good of our people and the state of Goa and for the future generation. Ever since, the weathercocks took the reins of Goa, neither they nor the people of Goa could rest in peace. Hence, Goans should be aware of the weathercocks!
27th Apr 2013
Public inconvenienceThe panic earlier this month among SSC students from Vasco who could not reach their examination hall in time because of traffic blocks could well have been avoided with some intelligent planning. The problem is that contractors undertaking public works seem to take it as a matter of right to block traffic on highways and interior roads with equal abandon in the name of “urgency”. And they appear least bothered about the inconvenience caused. While such inconvenience is acceptable to an extent and must be expected for the greater good of society, there also ought to be some semblance of responsibility, accountability and sensitivity when such works are undertaken.
The incident in Vasco ~ on the National Highway from Headland Sada junction to Cine El Monte theatre ~ was blocked resulting in students answering the SSC paper reaching late for their examination, many of them in tears. Several students had to abandon their vehicles and walk the distance; some lucky others were transported part of the distance on two- wheelers. In the end, the MLA’s intervention helped assuage the trauma after some 20 extra minutes were offered for those answering the exams at that particular centre. But do the students deserve such a harrowing time when they are already stressed out with exam psychosis? This type of inconveniencing is not restricted to asphalting alone, but even watering roadside gardens, laying manure on green verges and roundabouts or tending to the grass on road dividers are carried out in a like manner. One is baffled as to why such works are executed during peak hours. Perhaps, the contractors assume “office hours” are applicable to them too because, strangely, they commence and end their work for the day in step with government office timings! It is necessary that the contracts should stipulate conditions indicating how the work should be done with least inconvenience to the flow of traffic and free movement of people. There is another similar public inconvenience: Digging of roads for installing or repairing cables and pipelines. It is not as though there are no guidelines for executing such works. Whenever new connections are to be made across any roads the contractor is required to deposit the cost of re-surfacing the cut road and only then do the cutting. Yet, the department concerned is not alert and prompt in completing the repair work. It would appear that neither the contracting party, i.e. the administration, nor the contractors are least bothered by the inconvenience caused to road traffic and to pedestrians.
The situation of traffic jams on bridges is another nightmare. If trucks are prohibited from using the bridge during peak hours, what deters the administration from imposing a similar moratorium on the use of bridges by road-rollers and such slow moving heavy machinery which slow down movement of traffic during peak hours? This has been a regular phenomenon on Mandovi bridge and the new Patto bridge where road-rollers and CCP workers equipped with a lorries laden with compost are often seen tending to the garden on road dividers triggering a traffic bottle-neck.
Regulators turning a Nelson’s Eye to the public nuisance by contractors undertaking civil works just won’t wash. There is a need to ensure that such works are carried out in the early hours of the morning or later in the evening, with pauses during peak hours, in an effort to avoid congestion and inconvenience to citizens. The malaise has been existent for far too long and has been repeatedly ignored, with people taking the inconvenience in their stride. But it’s so-called “little things” such as these that are beginning to affect the quality of life in Goa. So, even as we welcome infrastructure, development and beautification works we as citizens must work to make sure the attendant inconveniences which betray a government as mai-baap syndrome are nipped in the bud.
Nobody can block roads, how-so-ever “public” the works undertaken seem to be, without prior notice and effective alternative arrangements in place. If protestors can be jailed for blocking roads, what prevents police from initiating similar action against officials/contractors? No more chalta hai, please!
Curb eve-teasing, prevent rape
Celvi Fernandes TellisIn India, most girls hesitate to report incidents of molestation, harassment and rape. The passing of lewd remarks at girls walking on streets, near educational institutions and public places is perhaps the initial step that leads to heinous crimes like rape. The Delhi gang-rape case has shaken women in that city. If eve-teasing is curbed, the heinous crime of rape can be well avoided.
It’s high time that the ‘it’s going on’ attitude in society, particularly among women, needs to be changed. We should not tolerate the indecent remarks passed by men anywhere. The families of the female victims should support them in registering protest.
It’s quite true that walking alone on the road is a risk. Boys walking in groups gaze at girls, who feel uncomfortable and irritated at this gesture. All they do is to look down and quickly cross the area. They don’t know who to trust and seek help from.
This peculiar situation faced by girls is not only confined to educational institutions but is more severe when they walk alone on the city roads. Venting their angst against such activities, a group of girls reveal that laxity on the part of the administration and police and lack of proper redressal mechanism perpetrates such crimes. This shows an urban trend of sickening the brutalization of women. Is justice absent? Why can’t the police and the lawmakers set an example by severely punishing the accused? The ever-increasing crime against women is demoralizing. Why should the women look down, and keep silent to avoid such incidents? ”Instead, all women need to be a little more alert. The Insensitive and callous attitude of the police towards such complaints is demoralizing. To top it all, the judiciary takes a lifetime in providing justice to the victim.’’
A rape victim is naturally traumatised and feels ashamed of what she has suffered. The world sympathizes with her. Instead, it should be the accused who should feel terribly bad and humiliating for his misdeeds.’’ The problem is when something of this kind happens, we talk, criticize and feel sad and eventually forget about it. This can’t go a long way.’
The ordeal a rape victim undergoes results in a psychological change. It is an act that reflects a mentally sick attitude of the perpetrator of the crime. He is sexually deprived, and tortures the victim. Rape is just like an accident which is not only physically but also mentally painful.’ In sex, there is a relationship and bonding between the two, rape is forced. There is no bond, but only pain. A pernicious, horrid and disgusting practice, eve-teasing needs an immediate check. Since there is an increase in the number of girl students and women who attend educational institutions and go to work, their protection is of extreme importance in a civilised and cultured society. However, the experiences of women, like the one that happened in Delhi proves the impotence of the public.
26th Apr 2013
The Female PrincipleThe “all women buses” scheduled to be operational from April 30 along the five major routes of Goa is a welcome step. The government’s decision may have followed a petition from women’s groups, but we are sure we speak for all Goans when we assert that it is women who have to face the brunt of uncouth, offensive and even criminal behaviour while travelling by public transport.
Certainly, the discomfort of travelling in poorly ventilated, dilapidated and over-crowded buses is the same for all regardless of gender and/or age, but it is female commuters who are routinely harassed on this form of public transport. Some have argued reserved buses for women ought to be seen as an outcome of the changing cultural milieu, wherein Goan society is no longer tight-knit and it is the “outsider” element that is responsible for having brought matters to such a pass.
In the absence of empirical evidence one way or the other it is difficult to sit on judgment on such a claim but one thing is for sure ~ things have certainly got worse for female commuters over the past decade. In the past, the number of buses in the State were predominantly owned by private operators who in an effort to reap maximum profits would routinely squeeze in more than the allowed number of passengers unmindful of the discomfort to, especially women, commuters.
When cheaper modes of State-owned bus transport became more easily available, the expectation was that matters would improve. Unfortunately, more and more women complain of being made to feel exceedingly uncomfortable while availing public transport whether run by the private or public sector. Perhaps, then, an exclusive bus for women is in reality at least partly an outcome of the cultural clash between various segments of society and the norms of public behaviour having gone into free fall.
The advent of Kadamba Transport Corporation has increased the number of buses plying within the State and bus travel has become fairly comfortable on some routes compared to the past, but the menace of sexual offences in buses has added a dark, new dimension to bus travel for women. It would not be accurate to claim that there was no such misbehaviour in the past, but the allegations were that the main culprits were then bus employees, conductors who often traumatized women, especially students including school-going ones. Today, though, whilst that complaint continues ~ just a few weeks back students came out on the streets protesting the manner in which bus conductors harassed students ~ co-passengers too have started being recorded.
That does tell us something, and not very pleasant, about where our society is headed.
Reports of students being either pushed out from buses, door slammed on their faces or humiliated by caustic remarks is not a new trait of the bus lobby, with the attitude having its genesis ever since the bus fare concession was offered to the students by the government. If there are more complaints by women during bus travel and the government has yielded to their demand, it simply means that women today are not ready to put up with this kind of behaviour and that is a positive sign.
All those promises made by successive governments on the eve of every bus fare hike ~ of bus conductors/drivers using uniforms, issuing tickets, having good manners and being courteous ~ have routinely been pushed under the carpet. So, while introducing an exclusive bus for women is a good if limited move to deal with the current problem, governments past and present must also introspect on why they have repeatedly failed in the mission to provide a safe and secure environment for women on public transport.
Lessons to be learnt
Pradip KamatI like to bring to attention of all Indian politicians regardless of party affiliation how quickly authorities in Boston solved the case of tragic Boston marathon bombings. It was handled professionally at all levels.
n As soon as bombings happened, the first responders/paramedics did a fantastic job. Are paramedics in India and our beloved state of Goa trained for disasters like these, are the area hospitals equipped to quickly triage and manage mass casualties?
n Immediately on day of bombings, the mayor of Boston, the state Governor and even the US President immediately addressed the nation vowing to book those responsible and bring them to justice. Why don't politicians/Government officials in India do that? We watched with embarrassment how our politicians behaved during the Mumbai 26/11 bombings. One politician even allowed his film star son to film the scene for future use in films. The Government reaction was delayed and lackluster as usual. Neither the PM, President nor the Governor addressed the nation soon after that attack.
n The teamwork between the local police, state police, FBI was superb. The intelligence gathering from cameras at the scene, pictures sent by locals allowed the authorities to zero in on the two bombers with 48 hours. What is happening with the bomb blasts in Hyderabad and Bangalore? Don't Indian politicians care for human life? Doesn't it embarrass Indian politicians that people have lost their lives and they should do something to book the culprits and do justice to the victims?
There was no political interference in the entire investigation of the Boston bombings but total support with optimal resources needed. In India politicians think of their vote bank before a culprit is hunted down.
n Again, due to professionalism and precision of the authorities in Boston the second suspect was caught alive. The entire community was evacuated, airspace made a no fly zone and city shut down. Human life was valued more then political mileage that could be driven from such an incident. The President of the USA addressed the nation again and thanked the law enforcement agencies and comforted the victims. Where do Indian leaders hide? Indian leaders will visit hospitals with their security causing inconvenience to public.
What needs to be done in India is to separate police from the clutches of corrupt politicians. They should be there to serve and protect aam admi not be politicians puppets. All incompetent, unhealthy police personnel should be immediately fired. For starters, to do away the British system of serving masters. Let’s get rid of the khaki uniforms and dress the police with something more colorful. Let’s train and pay them better. Let’s reward good policing and sacrifice. One policeman slapped a woman protestor at a recent rally against the rape of a the five-year old in Delhi. This is a sad day for a democracy like India and shameful for our political leaders who use policemen for their own benefit.
I hope better sense prevails, especially in Goa, a small state where the culture of police working can be changed. A free hand should be given within limits of the law to maintain law and order. Above all, police officials should be freed from clutches of the politicians and their stooges.
(The writer is a paediatrician based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
25th Apr 2013
Time to act tough with ChinaWith Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s impending visit to India next month, the Chinese government has sought to downplay the border incursion by its troops lest bilateral talks are scuttled. India ought to realize, however, that Beijing’s preference for talks from a position of strength is well established; indeed, it seems an integral part of its strategic-diplomatic policy. China is always seeking to be in a position, as most nation-states do in their national interest, where it has more bargaining power via-a-vis its interlocutors.
New Delhi must not, in these circumstances, ignore the incursions in the Ladakh sector. The 1993 Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement and the 1996 pact on Confidence Building Measures were expected to reduce the operational commitments of the Army from having to permanently man the difficult Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
But these exercises would seem to have been in vain. And if this were not enough, China has been occupying Indian territory for the last 60-odd years ~ to cite an instance in Aksai Chin, China is in possession of almost 38,000 square kilometers of what India considers its territory. Moreover, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory in the Shaksgam Valley of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir north-west of Siachen to China in 1963 under a boundary agreement that India does not recognize. Now, along this sector,the Chinese have the strategic Karakoram highway linking Xingjian and Pakistan.
There’s even speculation that Pakistan may begin virtually leasing out large tracts in the Northern Areas and Gilgit-Baltistan to China for infrastructure development and exploitation of natural resources. This apart, China has in the past claimed rights over 96,000 sq km of Arunachal Pradesh. There is therefore a definite Chinese plan, or least publicly stated and often reiterated stand, that is detrimental to Indian interests.
Our national leadership ought to take cognizance of this plain truth and adopt pro-active measures. The Chinese military buildup near the Ladakh region, for instance, is said to be some ten kilometers inside what India says is its territory. But then, there is that bubear ~ the LAC has not been demarcated and there are “differing perceptions” about where it runs in New Delhi and Beijing. The task of demarcating the LAC has been stuck in a quagmire and the lack of adequate landmarks have only hampered the process.
With no clear identifiable boundary, disputes are inevitable and it is vital that the LAC is clearly delineated on the ground as well as on maps. That is where the rub is ~ India has long complained that the maps exchanged as part of this initiative have been met with an obstructionist attitude from the Chinese side. But this is an impasse that we have to break, using whatever means short of military action that are at our disposal, as it will go a long way in overcoming the inadequacy of recognizable terrain features, which can further be overcome by exploiting GPS technology to accurately navigate up to an agreed upon and well-defined LAC on the ground.
The LAC must be demarcated on a priority, with the maps produced by the two neighbours exchanged showing the alignment. There is no reason for India to side-step the serious issue of border intrusion merely because of the Chinese Premier’s impending visit.
Control vehicle increase
John RazanaOur aim is to solve the traffic problem or to increase or maintain the steady flow of revenue. The latter solution would be on the same level as the problem. People will pay additional taxes. If taxes are increased heavily, say one lakh, it will remind us of Stalin, who I think would be embarrassed at the idea. There are one lakh vehicles more on the roads every year. At a tax rate of one rupee per vehicle, the government gets one lakh rupees Now this is a temptation. The more vehicles sold, the more the taxes. That's fine, if the aim is to get revenue. But if the aim is to solve the traffic problem and the attendant evil of accidents, then, hold your breath, forget the revenue. Shocking! But that's the solution. Let me explain.
If collecting taxes is on top priority, then solving the traffic problem is secondary. You can't solve the traffic problem while keeping an eye on the revenue. As Einstein said, the solutions will be on the same level as the problem.
This is the solution on the same level as the problem: increase taxes on cars. As a result car owners demand broad roads. The government will broaden the roads and build Highways by acquiring our land and razing down our ancestral homes. By the way one or two Highways solve the problem temporarily. How many Highways will be required for future traffic increase?
Next stop accidents by punishing rash driving. Build more hospitals for the victims. Then introduce more towing trucks, parking meters, multistoried parkhouses, traffic lights or policemen at every corner, flyovers, subways, underground trains, CCTV's, road broadening, new roads, highways et al.
All this will be forced on the government which has to serve the car owners because it has to justify the tax collection. Let me suppose Goans buy helicopters and that a hefty tax can be collected. Naturally the government is bound to build heliports in every village. At present we don't buy helicopters because there are no landing places at our destinations. The government doesn't have to build heliports as long as the government doesn't impose taxes. So we don't buy helicopters and there is no problem at all. Of course the government doesn't get taxes, but there are neither helicopters nor helicopter induced problems.
So what is the solution from a higher level? It should be clear by now. Don't charge any tax. Then the government isn't obligated to make driving in Goa amidst heavy traffic easy. Government can't stop us from buying cars, but then it is the car owner's responsibility if the traffic moves slowly (that will also solve the accident problem). I don't buy a helicopter because there are no landing facilities.
And I won't buy a car if I see that the traffic is moving slowly. At present we are buying a hundred thousand cars and motorcycles every year, even though we know that the roads seem to be bursting at their seams! We blame the government for the problem and expect it to solve the problem, or else we threaten to drive it through the exit door during the elections.
If taxes are paid for cars then there will be heart rending accidents. We risk losing our lives and that of our children every day. Is it worth it? Or rather, is revenue more important than the life of a child?
It depends on the aim, get revenue or solve the accident and traffic problem. Both aims together will cause the roads to "seem bursting at their seams" Any other solution before another Goan loses his life this week and every week? I get scared to walk in Goa.
24th Apr 2013
How about a master plan for residents?We’re back, once again, to the drawing board for a new tourism master plan. Every few years a new government comes along, and a new tourism minister decides that planning for the tourism sector needs to be rebooted. Never mind that several weighty, “professionally” produced tourism master plans have preceded the one now currently proposed by the BJP government, and none have been followed or implemented. Some 18 agencies have rushed in to bid for the master plan consultancy contract, Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar told the state Assembly Monday. But what’s interesting ~ and thank god for the few hawkish MLAs like Rohan Khaunte ~ is that Parulekar’s latest baby is practically a replay of the terms of reference of the master plan finalised in 2011.
So how much money are we going to cough up to get a new consultant to tweak and update what many before have already said? The question should have been put to the ruling benches by the comatose opposition Congress. But the former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane seemed more distressed to find there were very few tourism “experts” on the eight-member committee cobbled together to select the latest consultant. Tour operators, charter operators, more members of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) are now to be co-opted to the committee.
It needs to be stressed here that Goa’s tourism industry has ballooned and stretched out uncontrollably, outpacing infrastructure and trampling on the once pristine environment, with nothing but arrival figures and profits in mind. One baulks at the very idea of more “experts” and representatives of the industry sitting down to put to paper their vision for Goa for the next quarter century (in Parulekar’s assessment) with little regard for the overstretched environment or the impact of it on the permanent residents who have no stake or interest in the business, but who find themselves increasingly hemmed in by the tourist influx and edged out of the planning picture.
A recent development is the packs of tourists driving down from Karnataka to picnic at Patnem and Palolem on a Sunday. (One reason, of course, is the roads are much better, this side of the border.) The Canacona beaches empty out of locals and foreign tourists on what’s been dubbed the ‘Kannaday’. More to the point, when do we say this many arrivals and no more? We are after all a state of 1.54 million and a coastline of just 105 km.
The new tourism infrastructure planned for Panjim ~ as reported by this newspaper on Sunday ~ is just one instance of the myopic vision of the political-bureaucratic lobby that calls the shots. Rather than decongesting the entrance to the capital by relocating the noisy, intrusive cruise rides away from the city, the Goa Tourism Development Corporation will sink Rs 63 crore on a bouquet of new infrastructure primarily for this niche of tourism. Two platforms are being built under the Mandovi bridge to accommodate 135 buses (this quite apart from the Kadamba bus stand), and another multi-level structure is planned for 456 cars opposite the cruise jetty. If GTDC chairman Nilesh Cabral has his way, a two-storey building for tourist facilities will also somehow be wedged into the jetty.
While the spike in the tourism arrivals graph may seem impressive on paper, on the ground, the increasing numbers of domestic arrivals and the shrinking ratio of foreign arrivals (except for the Russians) are obvious signs of stress in the industry. One theory has it that the bloating domestic market is driving away the more discerning international traveller. There is of course the argument, that one tourist’s money is as good as another’s. But the larger question is, is Goa better off getting a better quality of traveller who feels for the place and respects the environment, or is it better off attracting larger and larger numbers of low-end domestic tourists who have little respect even for a clean beach?
Against All Odds
Maverick Vivian MartinsThe casino industry has quickly become a potent force in Goa with everyone finally bowing down to them in awe. Recently Michael Lobo threatened to fast unto death if Playboy club is given license to operate in Goa. Many politicians have voiced their opinions on the same and the decision not to allow the club seems to be undisputed. What is stopping our politicians from doing the same to combat the casino industry as it has affected Goa’s image in the worse possible way. Playboy is a club known for promoting vulgarity and it has made a name for itself in that department. Advertisements of casinos are all over the state so who says that vices could not be advertised? However what mystifies me is how one can fail to notice the casino advertisements. The politicians must have surely seen them while cruising on their comfy bikes and on one occasion without the helmets to blur their vision. Why are our politicians turning a blind eye to it? Is Money the only temptation blinding politicians to take a note of it? Casinos are a front for a whole range of illegal activities, including prostitution, money laundering and drug running instances which have been reported in the media. It is not really trouble-free to generalize but a sort of culture of gambling are developing, other corresponding things like alcoholism, prostitution, addiction, among others, come with it. It has also been reported that criminal elements for money laundering or terrorist-financing activities have also been taking place in the industry which is not a new phenomenon at all. All over the world the gambling dens are used by criminal and no matter how stringent the laws are one will always find a loophole to get away from trouble. Stringent laws are stringent only on paper but when it comes to implementing them the sting in taken out of it. The damage has already been done by the casino industry all thanks to the support given to them by the Government in power. But if nothing is done immediately about the issue than our state will get a whole lot worse.
The only foundation on which some politicians seem to support casinos is money. However, the acute need for money is due, in part, to defective governance in the first place. The huge sums squandered by debacles such as doles, gadgets to students, unnecessary welfare schemes to name a few but casinos should not be cover for the dereliction. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar promised that he would soon move a legislation which would restrict resident Goans and those under 18 from entering the offshore casinos. But still hasn’t done anything about it as majority of the visitors to casinos are Goans.
He also advises politicians to take a study tour to casinos? If he requests for CCTV footage of all the casinos he will be shocked to see how many politicians past and present frequent the casinos. Though it would be wrong, most people probably don't care much about that. But everyone cares about the social ills that come with gambling. The corrosive effect on families and children due to gambling addiction is measurably alarming. The industry always claims that it provides jobs to the people of Goa? There's no denying that jobs are needed in Goa? However, at what cost? Do we want temporary relief at the cost of long-term damage that promises to be widespread?
23rd Apr 2013
Entry tax and its aftermathThe decision by the State government to impose an entry tax on vehicles entering Goa has triggered a tempest, predominantly among outside transporters. Other non-Goa registered vehicles have paid the toll grudgingly. On the first day itself, the State netted revenue of some Rs 2.5 lakh in its quest to raise Rs 100 crore annually from this sector.
The entry tax and other avenues being explored by the Manohar Parrikar administration to augment the State government’s income from paid parking at EDC to the hike in stamp duty cannot be faulted as a means to keep the income in line with expenditure. The Entry Tax is seen by a segment of Goans as a disincentive to immigrants. With pressure of immigration felt most by long-time residents of the State who have seen the quality of life suffer as a result of the influx, there is even a thought that tax on vehicles ought to be actually higher during the tourist season to reduce the swarming number of tourists vehicles which trigger traffic bottle-necks in parts of the State. But while there may be sound logic in imposing an entry tax that would also hopefully create resources for servicing the heavy traffic through the State, the repercussions can be totally different from those anticipated.
As it is, many trucks which do not have delivery schedules or pick-up assignments in Goa prefer not to enter the State to avoid paying extra road tax. They use the road via Belgaum-Karwar. The number of such trucks will now increase. That may become a blessing in disguise. Of late, the number of road accidents involving trucks carrying heavy loads of chemicals has been on the rise. The State government, though, could have waited till the local production of vegetables, chicken and eggs had reached a level of self-sufficiency before going in for the tax which is bound to upset the inflow of these commodities.
The huge amount of money paid to Belgaum traders for procuring supplies from there can be paid to the local producers as procurement price and the supplies sold to consumers at subsidized rates through authorized vendors. Milk from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra and Maharashtra is being sold in Goa at rates lesser than Goa Dairy prices. If they can afford to sell at lower prices even after incurring heavy costs of transportation, why can’t Goa Dairy introspect and trim its overheads?
It is time we stopped our dependence on other States for articles of daily consumption. Even fifty years after Liberation, this crucial aspect of self-sufficiency remains neglected.
The entry tax has attracted criticism from various quarters, with the otherwise toothless Congress also demanding a rollback. Parrikar may have imposed the tax with the best of intentions but as the saying goes, the way to hell is paved with good intentions! There is an arrangement under the Motor Vehicles Act, where Zonal Permits are given to trucks and buses on a reciprocal basis; this too would be upset when any one State introduces a unilateral extra tax.
The country has come a long way from the days when each and every municipality used to levy Octroi on trucks carrying goods and the transport industry was horribly affected. Since then, National Permits and Zonal Permits have simplified things. Municipalities have been persuaded to do away with Octroi and have been compensated through State grants instead. The greater concern at this moment is the consequence and the fallout of the entry tax ~ the blockade by transporters and the challenge the government faces at this juncture in dealing with the situation.
If the transporters of essential commodities insist and prolong the blockade hampering the free flow of goods into the state, it is bound to trigger a crisis, especially in supply of vegetable, milk, meat and eggs. Prices of vegetables have reportedly shot up merely on the mention of the transporter’s threat. It would be foolhardy to permit food prices to further escalate as a result of the stir, especially since the people are facing the harsh reality of Goa being one of the most expensive States of India. The Chief Minister has countered the transporters threat by offering a counter-response ~ the possibility of blocking the flow of gas/ petroleum products. Currently, petroleum products to neighbouring states flow out of Goa in the absence of storage facilities at Karwar or Bangalore. While valid as a negotiating tactic, this will not resolve the problem arising out of the blockade. That Karnataka is going to the polls with the Chief Minister’s party is poor shape there will only ensure other complications.
It should not be forgotten that the vegetables, milk and chicken are not the only goods for which Goa is dependent on other states. We get apples from Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, chillies and rice from Andhra, potatoes from Gujarat, mangoes, onions and pulses from Maharashtra and so on. The only silver lining is the blockade could motivate local farmers to walk that extra mile to use their fallow lands.
Pale MLA Pramod Sawant justified the tax of Rs 1,000 on 6-8 tonne truck as “affordable” and explained the tax would raise the transportation cost of a kilo of vegetables by merely 10 paise. Moreover, petrol/diesel is cheaper in Goa, he added. But it is not economic logic, unfortunately, which will decide the fate of the blockade. Eventually, the Chief Minister may have to climb down and talk to the affected parties to hammer out a solution. The entry tax must stay but a balanced settlement of the imbroglio with Goa’s interest as a non-negotiable is the most desirable option.
Bravo, entry tax!
Allen Noronha,I wish to congratulate our State Government for imposing such a tax as the recent entry on non- Goan vehicles entering our State.
Goa offers the best of roads, best of street lights on every road to any one who wants to drive or be driven.
I drive very frequently to Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore. While driving on any road out of the border of Goa one has to spend a minimum Rs. 800 on the Maharashtra State Road to reach Mumbai, Pune or Bangalore. If you use the express highway you should be ready to shell around Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1200 depending on where your destination is. From Mumbai to Gujurat or Andra Pradhesh, the same toll is applicable. Goa is the only state that was lacking this form of toll. And this tax unlike other states , is levied only at entry point, whereas the above mentioned states levy such a tax at entry and exit points. The second experience is an interaction that I had with the truck drivers. They once told me at a dhabha on the highway that ours was the only State where they could drive so freely without any much damage to their vehicles, not even a regular otherwise common puncture!
I feel the Goa government should be firm and should not allow the tax to be reversed or abolished.
20th Apr 2013
Lessons From TerrorThe terror season is back, again. After the infamous 9/11 terror strikes on US soil, terrorists targeted a marathon in Boston which claimed at least two lives and left over a hundred injured. Nearer home, in the IT hub of Bangalore, terror revisited leaving some 16 hurt after suspected Indian Mujahedeen struck hours before the Indian Premier League T20 cricket match.
As against the Boston attack which was aimed at maximizing casualty and publicity, the Bangalore blast was aimed at instilling fear, though the publicity of injured/dead as a result of such action is always welcomed by terrorists. Terrorism during sporting events is not uncommon, with strikes even during the Olympics and World Cup. Terrorists target such sports events primarily because of its prominence on the international stage. In 2008, Tamil Tigers detonated a bomb in Sri Lanka at a marathon outside Colombo, killing 14 people and injuring 83. The attack was a successful assassination attempt on a Lankan minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. Between 1998-2005, the IRA repeatedly targeted the Belfast marathon, and once claimed the late Margaret Thatcher had to be lucky every time (to escape assassination) , while they had to be lucky once! In 2006, Pakistan faced a violent attack on a marathon in Lahore. Likewise, marathon runners in Bahrain were targeted in 1994. A few extremist Islamic groups target sporting events because they see sports teams as a threat to the strict religious identities they are trying to force on others. Sporting venues in general however are an attraction to terrorists because of the ire it generates when innocent victims are killed.
In the aftermath of the Bangalore blast, it was surprising that politicians who ought to have come together to condemn the blast ~ were involved in a verbal duel with a Congress party leader who said that since the blast was near the BJP office, it would surely help the BJP in the Assembly election.
Both blasts point to intelligence failure and the inability of the system to ward off these acts. This, despite various governments having faced the menace for decades. Similar to the recent Bangalore blast ~ which occurred exactly three years after twin explosions at Chinnaswamy Stadium in the city centre ~ there have been several such explosions elsewhere which coincided with earlier terror attacks. On April 17, 2010, two low-intensity bombs went off about an hour before the start of the Royal Challengers Bangalore-Mumbai Indians match, injuring 15 people. Isn’t it appropriate for security agencies to be wary of busy streets during such notorious anniversaries? Strangely, after the terror strike, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a terror alert in major cities including Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, but these alerts were not backed up by additional paramilitary troops even in regions hit by terror attacks.
There have been over 2000 terrorist attacks in the US between 1970 and 2011, less than two percent of which have caused more than ten casualties. This has given rise to increased security and people in general have grown accustomed to security checks at sporting events, where fans are often not allowed to bring in bags, and when belongings are needed and eventually permitted, they are subjected to a thorough scan before being allowed into the stadium.
One can be sure that US law keepers will learn more about what happened in Boston and it will only be a matter of time before security plans are improvised. In India however, we have failed to strengthen our security by building a strong network of vigilance as well as intelligence.
Worse, there’s no unity on fighting terror among politicians who are quick to make claims, while the underpaid and exploited policeman is left to face the brunt on the ground. This sadly, is the Indian reality.
Dissipation of Goa’s youth
Adelmo FernandesIn yet another shocking incident reported in the Goan media, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly drugged and gang-raped at Assonora. The police have reportedly arrested all the five accused who were known to the girl. Another disturbing fact is that all the accused are understood to be in the age-group of 19-21 years. Even the youth are getting involved in such heinous crimes, and this is certainly a disturbing trend. What could the reason behind this trend be? It is pertinent to note that a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has reportedly been filed in the Supreme Court to make watching porn on the internet a non-bailable offence. The apex court has issued notices to various ministries of the central government stating that the existing laws have failed to prohibit proliferation of internet pornography and alleged that it was affecting the younger generation. This has resulted in increasing cases of sexual assaults on women. The petitioner reportedly submitted before the court that the government needs to take pro-active steps to block all pornographic websites as they are affecting the “peace of mind, health and wellness, happiness and human potential.”
The petitioner also reportedly said, “absence of internet laws encourages watching porno videos since it is not an offence. This has led to a situation where more than 20 crore porn videos/porn clippings are available in the Indian market which have been downloaded from the internet. Availability of porn movies at the click of the mouse in a cyber café, on one’s personal laptop and within the confines of the home, is probably one of the most important reasons for the rise in the number of youth committing atrocities against women in the country. In this context, one of the rapists in the Delhi gang-rape case was a minor. It is high time the government blocks all these pornographic websites while also confiscating all the porn CDs and DVDs circulating in the market.
We need to protect our youth from the bad influence of pornography which leads to degradation of moral values. In today’s world, even minors have access to pornographic material on the internet. This is quite disturbing as it may not be possible for parents to keep a watch on the sites their children visit in their absence. The government at the Centre needs to take action in this direction as it is one of the effective measures to stop atrocities committed against women.
19th Apr 2013
Special Status MovesIt’s less than a decade since state authorities led by the political elite in Goa were falling over themselves, rolling out the red carpet to industry by offering huge tracts of land as enticement to promoters wishing to set up base here. It took a people’s movement, the anti SEZ protests and the increasing public anger and disenchantment with land grabbing ~ for state authorities to sniff the public mood, sense the depth of public sentiment and rising anger and do a quick about turn. On Monday, the State Assembly passed a resolution urging the central government to accord special status to Goa under Article 371 of the Constitution of India or any other provision for regulating ownership and transfer of land and conservation of land. It’s a welcome step indeed for Goa ~ one Goa hopes will be pursued with vigour and speed ~ but the question remains, does the State government have any less a role in protecting Goa, its land and the idea of statehood?
This was not the first resolution of its kind. In August 2008, two legislators moved a resolution urging the State government to pursue special status for Goa with the Centre to protect the State’s unique identity. Pursuing the matter at the Centre was MP Shantaram Naik, who in 2010 presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister stating the urgent need to consider Goa’s case for special status under Article 371. He was told at the time, as was former chief minister Digamber Kamat, that state governments had enough provisions to legislate land transfer, without the Centre’s aid. In March 2008 however, Dayanand Narvekar’s amendment to the Registration Act, that sought to give powers to sub registrars to scrutinize sale deeds and refuse registration to land transfers not in accordance with public policy ~ was referred by the Governor to the President, and consent was withheld for the same. Yet, other states have managed to place effective curbs, especially on the sale and alienation of agricultural land to non agricultural uses and users in their states. Has not Maharashtra done so? The Himachal Pradesh Tenancy Land Reform Act debars non agriculturalists and non domiciled people from purchasing more than 500 sq m of land in non rural areas, and non agriculturalists from owning agricultural land. Non domiciles have to get state government permissions to invest in property above these limits. Similar provisions are in place in Uttaranchal. Though urban development authorities are now permitting developers to sell apartments within the limit for built up property, and there are circumventions of the law, in that domiciles are shown as partners in land transactions ~ the revenue laws have managed to put the brakes on any rampant sell out of those state’s farm lands and beautiful Himalayan hillscapes to speculators and the like.
Contrast this to Goa, where politics and land dealing are closely enmeshed. What percentage of the state’s farm land and other spaces have been sold to all manner of buyers from here, the rest of India and abroad ~ is anybody’s guess. Rhetoric aside, is the conversion of agricultural land being stopped in its tracks? The Goa Land Use (Amendment) Bill, 2012 that seeks to amend the Goa Land Use (Regulation) Act, 1991 ~ and prevent sale/conversion of tenanted and non tenanted agricultural land ~ was only moved last year. It is not yet an Act, reportedly before a select committee. What of the irretrievable changes already effected? And the big question is how serious are we? And are we doing enough to pursue these goals with what powers in revenue matters the State already has? Or is putting the entire onus on the Centre a convenient strategy, a fog of smoke and mirrors to borrow a phrase? As has been pointed out, there are other avenues to protect tribal land under the Constitution that have hardly come up in mainstream public political discourse in Goa.
This is not to argue that Goa ought not to pursue special status with the Centre. But let’s recognize the procedure can be tedious, pursuing a constitutional amendment took other regions thirty years to effect. The point is that very little, but political will, prevents Goa from using the current statutes to both legislate to protect its own interests, and implement current laws to achieve the same.
On the questions of in-migration and consequent loss of identity, the co-relation between constantly ratcheting up growth multipliers in indiscriminately inviting investment and big projects that have little use for Goan labour and much avarice for Goa’s land and markets ~ is a no brainer. In-migration has grown concurrently with growth in the industrial, tourism, real estate and mining sectors. Migration of skilled and unskilled labour from low growth peripheral areas to high growth centres is basic economics. The co-relation is inevitable (high growth~high in-migration). How the State decides to go, is all the choice it has.
IPL: Affecting mainstream cricket
Mithun DeyIPL, the shortest form of the game of cricket. People are greatly entertained with the huge sixes and fours hit by the players. But the balance of the game has changed. I believe that IPL or T20 tournament is wiping out the balance as well as the fascination of international cricket. Apart from that, players are becoming much more money-minded day after day. This has also seriously affected their flair and dedication to play both one-day international cricket and test matches as well. Moreover, the IPL has a detrimental impact on learning, business and production. And, more importantly, on account of IPL cricket, wastage of electricity is one of the central problems for our nation. This form of cricket is a purely business venture.
The most elegant shot to any sort of delivery causes merriment not only from the crowds but dance moves from cheerleaders and music from the DJs too. Placing an innings is another expression that will misplace the importance of the ideal match. Undoubtedly, IPL or T20 gets more popular and trendy but both ODI and test cricket stand to lose.
The game of money making is a lethal disease of Indian cricket. The game doesn’t mean real cricket. It must be stopped to save real cricket and its decorum. Should politicians be associated with IPL? They need to work for the cause of the common people and not the field of cricketers. As we all know nearly 50% of India’s population is below the poverty line and about 780 million Indians will be earning less than $2 per day by 2020.
13th Apr 2013
Playboy PartiesCome Monday, Goa's tourism minister Dilip Parulekar will have to answer a calling attention motion tabled in the Assembly by his party colleague and Calangute MLA Michael Lobo on impending tourism department clearances to India's first Playboy Cafe that is to be launched in Candolim. Lobo's threat to go on a hunger-strike to prevent the club's opening in his constituency has grabbed considerable attention besides having caused a divide in the State BJP with some MLAs supporting the club and others, including the official party spokesman, saying the party was against the facility being set up in Goa.
Few in politics are unaware that political rivalries in the coastal constituency chosen for the club's first seaside venue are driving the political side of the protests. If the club's promoters had chosen to negotiate a different site, and not one owned by a former Congress legislator, the political noises, one suspects, may have had a different tenor. But that is beside the point. Indian promoters who reportedly have a 30-year licensing deal with the US-based company to use the brand in India, announced plans to the media to open 100 more cafes, clubs, hotels in India over the next ten years ~ all aimed at creating a members-only, luxury brand for the Indian "aspiring classes", as it were. The club would include a line up of fashion apparel, fragrances and merchandise. And whether or not the playboy "bunny" costume is part of the plan, the opening of the club has been opposed by many concerned citizens, including women's groups among others.
With the Congress and the BJP now opposing the Playboy Club in Goa, it has little chance of seeing an opening in the State anytime soon, if at all. The tourism department had sought and received an affidavit promising "no vulgarity and obscenity" at the club but Lobo has rubbished these assurances in a snowballing war of words within the BJP itself. The political divide within the BJP aside, the issue has larger connotations. Goan tourism has much to worry about.
Prostitution is on the increase in some coastal villages, and women's groups have a point when they refer to the increasing numbers of foreign women being trafficked to the region, besides women from other parts of India and even some Goans. After the IRB police posted on beaches break off duty at 6 pm, the sands becomes a free-for-all drinking area frequented by transvestites and tourists. Blaring music from beach shacks despite the sound bans are here to stay, apparently.
At a time when more infamous tourism destinations like Pattaya are working to rid themselves of negative tags, it makes little sense for Goa to pursue sleaze. When natural beauty and heritage, high-end entertainment and the like can be leveraged to become Goa's main draws, the insidious rebranding to sin city, party destination and gambling centre for the country's newly rich and not always very classy is changing the profile, the product and even the stake-holding ownership from local to non-local hands. Many Goans are deeply disturbed by this new image being sought to be created for the State. If a Las Vegas/Sun City model is what the Indian glitterati and the industry that drives them wants for playground and/or exotic backdrop, must Goa be that place? Both the former were set up in deserts and built from scratch, not in the middle of rooted communities with schools and villages, a thriving beachside family destination, with a rich culture and an educated and increasingly empowered local population.
Think about it.
The legacy of Margaret Thatcher
Sean GabbMuch will be said over the next few weeks about the “achievements” of Margaret Thatcher. These will probably divide between Daily Mailish eulogies and Guardianesque whines. My own view is that she was a bad thing for England.
She started the transformation of the UK into a politically correct police state. Her government behaved with an almost gloating disregard for constitutional norms. She brought in money laundering laws that have now been extended to a general supervision over our financial dealings. She relaxed the conditions for searches and seizure by the police. She increased the numbers and powers of the police. She weakened trial by jury. She weakened the due process protections of the accused. She gave executive agencies the power to fine and punish without due process. She began the first steps towards total criminalisation of gun possession.
She did not cut government spending. Instead, she allowed the conversion of local government and the lower administration into a system of sinecures for the enemy class. She allowed political correctness to take hold in local government. When she did oppose this, it involved giving central government powers of supervision and control useful to a future politically correct government. She extended and tightened the laws constraining free speech about race and immigration.
Her encouragement of enterprise never amounted to more than a liking for big business corporatism. Genuine enterprise was progressively heaped with taxes and regulations that made it hard to do business. Big business, on the other hand, was showered with praise and legal indulgences. Indeed, her privatisation policies were less about introducing competition and choice into public services than in turning public monopolies into corporate monsters pampered by the state with subsidies and favourable regulations ~ corporate monsters that were expected in return to lavish financial rewards on the political class.
She virtually began the war on freedom of choice where smoking is concerned. She started the modern obsession with health and safety as an excuse for controlling our lives. She vastly expanded state powers of supervision and control over parenting, and immensely expanded the numbers and powers of social workers. She made the environmental nonsense politically fashionable. She was the first senior British politician to start wittering about climate change and ozone holes. She doubtless thought she was further stuffing the coal miners.
She barely cut taxes. She ruthlessly pushed the speed of European integration. Her militaristic foreign policy and slavish obedience to Washington mostly worked against the interests of this country. Even her reforms of the trade union movement had malevolent effects.
Forget Margaret Thatcher as some hero of our movement. She was at best the midwife of the New Labour revolution. She did not just make the world safe for New Labour ~ she created New Labour. Without her precedents and her general transformation of our laws and institutions, Tony Blair would have been impossible. I am inclined to wish James Callaghan had won in 1979. If things had turned nasty thereafter, it would at least have been an honest despotism. No libertarians or genuine conservatives would have been making idiots of themselves a third of a century later trying to tell themselves and everyone else that it was other than it was.
12th Apr 2013
Slapstick TragedyThe reported endorsement of the view that "lazy" civil servants ought to be slapped, by no less a personage than the Goa Water and Civil Supplies Minister Dayanand Mandrekar, has attracted a good deal of attention creating ripples well beyond the State's boundaries even making news in the United Kingdom. Whether Goan-origin MPs in the British Parliament endorse "corporal punishment for civil servants" is another matter altogether!
Some of Goa’s brilliant array of legislators has had a history of allegedly getting physical with public servants. In 2011, former Tourism Minister Mickky Pacheco allegedly slapped an electricity department official. Needless to say, the official had the courage to go ahead and get justice for himself only because he could withstand the extraordinary pressure officials are subject to.
Mandrekar reportedly justified getting physical, as it were, with unresponsive officials because at times, he apparently said, "officials do not do any work properly... and they do not listen either”. But is a slap the only way to bring officials in line, specially when there is that already beaten path ~ suspension, threat of transfer ~ frequently adopted by politicians themselves to punish government officials? The point has been made by many a bureaucrat, retired and serving, that there are times when legislators issue illegal instructions and lose it when their fiat is not implemented. For that matter, how many legislators and even official superiors of the civil servant lower down the hierarchy give controversial directives in writing?
Unfortunately, a majority of lower rung officers meekly succumb to the whims of their bosses to avoid rubbing their political masters the wrong way. And eventually, when things go awry, it is often these lower rung officials who face the brunt of penal action. There have been series of incidents throughout the country in recent times where politicians have slapped/punched officials, some in full public view, who were alleged to have failed to follow instructions issued to them.
In a recent survey of members of the Maharashtra State Assembly, it was revealed that one in six had slapped government officials at some point in their glorious career. Affidavits submitted by the MLAs had the gory details ~ as many as 50 legislators had been charged with assaulting public officials. One Shiv Sena member actually has been accused of slapping officials on five different occasions!
That leaves us with the question: Is slapping of "lazy" officials now an official sport? Are politicians competing for medals? And if so, why restrict the proposed action to merely the "lazy" and exclude the energetic, go-getters among bureaucrats who exploit their position and authority for vested interests? The latter category of officials, it can be argued, are worse for governance than the lazy.
There is a need for serious debate on this issue. As long as it doesn't end with yet another slap!
Indian Railways ~ off-track on cleanliness?
Agnelo GomesYour daily news and articles on waste management or mis-management problems in Goa and the rest of India has prompted me to reflect on my own experience while travelling on the Indian Railways.
A month back, on March 6, 2013, I boarded the Konkan Kanya at Margao, Goa for my destination CST, Mumbai. Seated right across me was a young military soldier in civilian clothes, Sandeep by name. He boarded the train at Kankavali, Maharashtra. He was returning to Jammu where he has been posted for about two years. From the short conversation I had with him, I realized that life in the military is hard and risky but in peace times it’s a pretty comfortable life. He gets ninety days leave, a handsome salary and all the perks including free travel by train anywhere in the country.
Besides getting into small talk with co-passengers, another pass time of mine is to sip masala tea served in plastic cups. This tea is sold by waiters from the train pantry. Food seems to be everyone’s favorite pass time as the train sometimes speeds and at times crawls to one’s destination.
After sipping the last drop of tea I crushed the plastic cup and stored it in a plastic bag and then put in the side pocket of my back-pack. Sandeep was shocked to notice that. He found it odd. He helpfully suggested I toss the cup through the window. I told him doing that is precisely what I want to avoid. I will later put it in a trash bin at the station. He smirked at me and must have thought I was odd. He asked me why I did so. I requested him to please look through the window of the train and see the trail of trash. That trail of trash runs parallel to the tracks creating an ugly and destructive landscape. That left him thinking. He probably had never thought of this before. I have noticed that most people never think twice when they drop the empty plastic bottle out of the window or toss the silver foil out of the running train after enjoying a hot biryani lunch. They rather think they are being clean travellers leaving no trash around.
Personally, train travel has been difficult for me not just because of the crowding or the delays but much more because of filthy sanitation facilities and lack of proper treatment of trash. This artificial landscape created by travellers along the rail tracks can be seen all over the country.
As a country we have no system in place to deal with our trash. Till date I have never found a trash bin in any of the trains I have travelled on. The victims of this non-system is the environment and people who have generously allowed the railway line to run in their neighbourhoods and villages. It’s very sad to see stray animals like dogs, cows and monkeys too turning victims as they end up innocently feeding on these our rejects.
The railway budget recently passed spoke of luxury trains and the world’s highest railway bridge in Jammu and Kashmir, but nowhere it spoke of taking care of the environment and something as simple as garbage collection, segregation, recycling and gainful disposal.
My train did arrive at a reasonable time ~ just 25 minutes late ~ but I’m still horrified with the sight of trash
11th Apr 2013
Mopa On The MindWith the completion of land acquisition of a little over 2,000 acres of land in eight villages of Pernem taluka earlier this week, the first major phase towards the Mopa airport is now complete. For the Manohar Parrikar government that is taxiing full throttle down the Mopa runway, the land acquisition conducted in three phases, and that includes a considerable amount for an approach road, marks a watershed. As it does for the State.
In a few days, the State government will be reportedly putting up its Requests for Quotations, a global request that is being seen as a litmus test to ascertain and settle doubts over the financial viability of the greenfield airport that is expected to cost some Rs 3,000 cr. Financial consultants being appointed only recently to work out revenue models for the airport has caused some to suggest that the project itself was being worked backwards ~ the desire to set up the airport preceding the felt need for it.
That Dabolim international airport is just 60 km away to the south while further north, 66 km away, the Chippi airport in Sindhudurg is underway, are concerns that were recently voiced again in the Goa Assembly where government ally Mickky Pacheco threatened an agitation to stall Mopa taking off. Politically, the current dispensation is risking the ire of many of its new supporters in South Goa, including those close to late minister Matanhy Saldanha, who have openly taken umbrage to the Chief Minister's statement that Saldanha favoured Mopa. Businesses, hotels and residents in the South are naturally unhappy with the prospect of Mopa getting airborne and likely in the future to put a 60-100 km commute between them and that airport.
A Forum Promoting Employment and Entrepreneurship in Goa (FPEEG) reportedly released a study saying the new airport would indirectly hit businesses in the South Goa. Recent assertions from the Chief Minister that the upgraded Dabolim airport would not be shut once Mopa gets operational has not assuaged critics given the major trust-deficit in place on this issue. At one stage it was suggested that the single private operator would run both Dabolim and Mopa to keep both operational simultaneously. Skepticism over the long-term viability of a two-airport formula has only mounted after the examples of Bangalore and Hyderabad. It is in a situation of overall distrust and increasing anger that the government is fast-tracking the Mopa project.
The Chief Minister has sought to quell criticism that Mopa is essentially a landholders and real estate dream project by promising a 7 km radius no-development zone around the main airport. Pernem is one of Goa's rustic talukas, where landowners political and non-political are in a race with neighbouring Sindhudurg in the development stakes and evidently Mopa airport is seen as a force multiplier for the region's growth. Mopa's financial viability to its promoters is one matter. Questions about its financial and social costs to the Goan economy as a whole, have hardly been settled yet. South Goa, that has developed around Dabolim, feels it will be needlessly upended. Assertions that Dabolim ~ even after its new terminus gets operational ~ will not handle more than 4 million passengers per annum ~ is the main argument projected to justify Mopa that is expected to start up with a 4.4 million handling capacity.
An expanded Dabolim is just months away from commissioning. Would it not be wiser for a government that should have the State's financial well being at heart to exercise caution rather than speed through large investment projects?
Data bank for land titles
Paul PereiraThe current property (land and residential) prices in Goa are skyrocketing and are beyond the purchasing power of average Goans. There are some crafty landlords, brokers and builders in Goa who sell these properties to more than one buyer, thus causing severe problems to some of these buyers by way of unnecessary court cases in order to validate the documents of their sale deeds.
There are cases when the written consent of eligible legal heirs to the properties has not been taken. Some of these legal heirs are untraceable or unaware of their legal rights provided by the Portuguese common civil code applicable in the State of Goa. There are cases when the legal heirs holding foreign citizenship are bullied by doubtful landlords, brokers, builders and a few of their relatives in Goa by making them feel they have lost their legal rights to their ancestral properties in Goa. This is absolutely wrong and needs to be addressed urgently. The Portuguese Common Civil Code provides that all people of Goan origin, wherever they may be, and whatever nationality they may possess, are eligible to claim their legal rights to ancestral properties by demonstrating their link to the original owners.
Some people try to declare certain properties as enemy properties in order to make things difficult for the rightful legal heirs. Enemy properties are administrated by the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, Mumbai (Central Government Enemy Property Act, 1968 and Enemy Property Amendment Act, 1977). In the Enemy Property Act there are provisions to return individual enemy properties to rightful owners and they should not be afraid to reclaim their properties. Enemy properties are applicable to individuals who left India during and after the 1965 and 1971 war with Pakistan. Any individual who came from Pakistan and settled in India before 1965 and owns land are out of the purview of the Enemy Property Act provided they are Indian citizens.
It is becoming very difficult to enter into agreement of sale and sale deeds with respect to properties in Goa due to unclear or doubtful land titles. Form I and XIV is not the final acceptable document, as present owners have to demonstrate their link to the properties. Individuals purchasing properties from some of the present landlords are under great risk as some of these landlords have sold them to multiple buyers and sometimes without the written consents of all the legal heirs. The State government should start taluka wise compilation and storage in soft copies of the original authentic land tiles (sale deeds, succession deeds, gift deeds and partition deeds) starting from 1950 to date. Such information should be based upon each taluka, survey number, sub-division number, original owner/owners name, subsequent owner/owners name, present owner(s) name(s) et al. With such an advanced sophisticated computerised system in place, the general public will be able to make an informed decision.
The government should start the process by outsourcing or engaging educated people on contract to compile and gather the required information. Only then, we can be sure that people are free from possible claims and court litigations from any legal heirs and other interested parties.
10th Apr 2013
The Tourism Tenders GameSome rather uncomfortable details have been tumbling out of the state tourism closet with the heat turned on the Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar in the Goa legislative Assembly. Seven events management companies are empanelled with the government, yet only two of them bid for the lucrative Carnival and Food and Cultural Festival contract.
The fact there was such a huge difference between the winning Rs 3.48 crore bid by Vasco-based Vinsan Graphics and the only other bid of Rs 6.7 crore that came in from the Mumbai agency Fountainhead Promotions and Events should have raised eyebrows in the government. But it didn’t, raising speculation of brazen collusion in the tenders game, as Independent MLA Rohan Khaunte alleged in the House on Monday.
Tender fixing is the big money ticket for those who have access to power, and the current of greed runs from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy stairway. And what better way of bypassing rules, hoodwinking the public and making everything seem above board than to arrive at a pre-arranged agreement among the empanelled lot itself over who will bid and who will abstain? It pays too, to have a handpicked tenders committee. The one for the Carnival contract had two persons from the tourism minister’s constituency, whose technical competence was questioned in the Assembly.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s assurance that empanelled agencies that consistently abstained from participating “could be blacklisted” is rather hollow ~ those in the game will quickly devise another way to get around these “transparent” rules. More worryingly, Parulekar ~ whose performance as tourism minister leaves one rather nervous about the extent of badly planned “tourism infrastructure” he is likely to impose during his term ~ was also in a spot over the State-owned Paradiso property in Anjuna. The property which has one of the most stunning views on that part of the coast, gained notoriety for its alleged illegalities in early 2000, both in violating the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) and the unfettered rave parties organised by a controversial and politically-connected entrepreneur who ran the club previously.
The government has once again leased out the public property and the minister admitted in the House that he wasn’t aware if the new lessee is rebuilding in contravention of CRZ regulations. The matter, raised in the Assembly by another Independent MLA Vijai Sardessai, points to the government’s complete indifference in maintaining and protecting State-owned properties from falling into the hands of dubious business people. As taxpayers we have the right to a full disclosure of the tender/lease agreements entered into by the government and the private parties that have possession of so many public properties under the guise of tourism.
From the tourism minister’s statement in the Assembly, it is apparent that many of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) properties are being held by the same parties for years without any rent hikes.
Yet another BJP minister seems in a great hurry to push forward the legacy of his political predecessors with the “beautification” of the Anjuna lake which will the cost the unsuspecting taxpayer a huge Rs 1.18 crore. The Anjuna village panchayat has been abuzz with murmurs of protest over the project that is being directly handled by the water resources department under the Minister Dayanand Mandrekar. The government is said to have spent over Rs 68 lakh on the Anjuna “lake revival" some years ago, money, which reports say, went literally down the drain when the government project blocked all the natural springs in the process. The new minister has revived the “development” project that proposes to recreate a lake in a village that has already voted against it in the gram sabha. And officials in charge of the project say there will be springs spouting water from the centre of the lake.
Hope does spring eternal when government contracts are involved, obviously!
Sins of omission
John Eric GomesThere must be a basic change in mindset for good administration to enable justice and good governance to prevail. I heard ministers in the Goa Assembly wanting complaints to be made, before taking any action. The same attitude prevails in all departments of the government. In fact complaints when made are dissuaded or reluctantly/ lethargically acted upon, if at all. This is evident from the high penalty for a deemed false complaint in the Lokayukta Bill. How can there be any respect for authority or the law, if most law makers are law breakers?
The bureaucrats in government thrive on this, since it is easier not to do anything with impunity, and it also encourages the need for bribes/speed money. There are procedures, red tape and immunity protection to assist them in this endeavour. So they will not act unless there is a complaint. They may inform the person against whom a complaint is made and then delay matters to remain in the good books or solicit a bribe from both parties! Police do not record FIRs and if forced to, record it vaguely/wrongly or fail to act or delay action by forming a committee or passing the buck or not investigating the matter properly.
In a recent specific case, officials of the Konkan Railway Corporation were forced to demolish illegal shops blocking the passage at Tivim station. After the station master failed to take action as promised, a written complaint was filed and RTI used to obtain the original approved plan of the station. A lawyer’s notice was sent to the chairman of the corporation, with a copy to the stall owners. A vague reply was received from the assistant commercial manager stating that works for widening entrances was held up due to a paucity of funds and no time bound action was specified! The two shops continued to be used as a canteen, inconveniencing passengers especially those with disabilities. The basic plan reportedly showed that the construction had violated Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India!
On August 22, 2012 there was an LPG cylinder explosion in one of the shops, and the persistent follow up of one complainant forced the corporation to eventually act.
There is the citizen’s charter which every Goa government department, including the police is supposed to have, that spells out for the citizen details of what their responsibilities are, who to contact, details of time bound procedures are laid down. Unfortunately nobody (neither citizens nor the department staff) know about this, and most charters have been locked away in some dark corner and have become absolutely outdated today!
9th Apr 2013
A Konkan Darshan?The development of a “cultural hub” across the boundary in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra has understandably sent the State’s stakeholders in the tourism industry into a tizzy, with many in the trade fearing that the tourism-related development in Sindhudurg which is endowed with equally beautiful beaches as Goa, would dent the state’s tourism market. The fear stems from various factors, including the fact that the Maharashtra government is way ahead with the construction of the airport at Chippi ~ some 80 kilometers away from the proposed Mopa airport.
In Malvan alone, some 15 hotel chains have zeroed in on prime properties along the coast, thereby endorsing the claim that Malwan is poised to be the next entertainment hub. With the country’s largest sea aquarium being planned and backed by the Government of India’s sanction for a metro in the region~ which would link the aquarium and the villages of Oras and Kudal, apart from the international Chippi airport ~ a tsunami of development is on the cards. Gauging the potential, a realty consortium has commenced work on a film city ~ a project with residential housing too, where land rates are travelling north virtually at the speed of light. Former honchos of the famed England-based Madam Tussad’s wax museum too, have tied up with the project promoters to set up a museum of moving images and wax work there.
With such active development underway, the area is poised to witness a quantum leap in tourism in a few years. This has naturally upset stakeholders in Goa, who fear their market share will dwindle. The long and beautiful beaches of the Konkan have remained more or less unexposed to the world due to its inaccessibility, but the scene will change once the infrastructure is in place. That is unavoidable.
The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) has attempted to put up a brave front when it expressed confidence that the growth of Sindhudurg would not deter tourist inflow into the State. But with an airport in the district, one must admit it can make a world of a difference. Even the TTAG contention that beaches alone do not attract tourists to Goa, but it is it’s people, its cultural uniqueness and lush hinterland that make the difference ~ has to be examined with ground realities. Sindhudurg too can provide equal attraction, considering a slew of tourism-related projects are underway. Even the idea that the people of Goa is what makes it an attraction for tourists is losing its currency due to the large-scale influx of migrants, who have virtually changed the demography and traditional culture of the people.
If tourists are not coming to Goa, the government must introspect and determine what has gone askew. There are many issues that need introspection ~ including the decade-long menace created by M V River Princess at Sinquerim beach ~ and proactive corrective action in a bid to quell the modern challenges posed to sustainable tourism. But then, development of Sindhudurg ought not to be regarded as a threat to Goa’s tourism. Rather, with the advent of an airport in the region, Goa would complement Sindudurg in promoting tourism: tourists would prefer to arrive at Chippi, take the metro and go on a detour of the region, even visiting the wax museum, the film city, the oceanarium and drive down to Goa. This would keep tourists longer in the region, which would automatically see the development of the rural areas.
Sindhudurg’s gain then, cannot be regarded as a threat to Goa, because it would mean tourists spend a longer vacation in the region. Tourists visiting north India prefer to visit New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, as part of their itinerary in the sector. Isn’t it time then to flag the concept of a Konkan itinerary for tourists?
Charity begins at home!
Plastino D’CostaIf at all some Bollywood script writer writes a dialogue which mentions that Goa is one of the world’s biggest homes for the aged, the first person to take offence will be among some of those at the helm. Little do we realize, that when we lose our ability to see ourselves in the mirror, it becomes all the more important we start paying attention to people who are willing to tell us the truth to our face, even if it hurts.
Successive Goan governments competing to be more charitable than the other, have always dished out dole money in order to mask their inefficiencies or distract its citizens. One of the schemes is the Dayanand Social Security Scheme that will eventually make Goa the biggest home for the aged, if not one already. Promoted by the Government of Goa, Department of Social Welfare, as part of their initiative under “freedom from hunger”, at least that is what their website says; this scheme has slowly turned out to be a free-for-all scam, with its original purpose long been forgotten. A scheme that was probably intended for the elderly citizens of the poorer neglected areas such as Sattari, is now being availed by the sophisticated elderly citizens of relatively affluent areas of Salcete.
Vague rules of qualification, that are intentionally not advertised in black and white and mostly concealed in the fine print by the government, have allowed politicians, their agents and so-called intellectuals to coax ignorant citizens to apply and avail of this scheme. The scheme today is unable to differentiate between someone living in a hut or a mansion, everybody has joined the party. Successive governments in their enthusiasm to keep their citizens cheerful have mostly overlooked illegal applications, similar to the previous regime overlooking illegal mining and allowing everybody to dig in.
The present government seems to have shown interest in making some things right, and have made noises of strict action on fraudulent applicants. However, they must take cognizance of the fact that most applicants have been lured by cunning politicians or their representatives by taking advantage of the applicant’s ignorance. Most applicants are made to sign blindly on papers even if it means signing fraudulent affidavits or income certificates that are submitted with the application. Adding to this is the Goan obsession to take advantage of loopholes, the more the rules get vague the more they are penetrated. After all an intelligent and resourceful person in the eyes of many Goans, is the one that can infiltrate and manipulate the government systems and get the work done.
The present chief minister is a sensitive person and might have started this scheme in his early tenure with good intentions, but he should also remember there are consequences. Goans will have to face Generation Next. The mandate given to him is to use Goan money in a judicious manner and not to throw it at people at the slightest problem Goans face.
6th Apr 2013
Buying Up GoaThe controversy over foreigners purchasing land, property and apartments in Goa is back under the spotlight after the Enforcement Directorate investigating the cases issued twenty more show-cause notices towards the end of March. The issue has been simmering away with much emotion and anxiety since the early part of the last decade when a whistle-blower drew attention to purchases of large tracts of agricultural land by Russians in Pernem taluka and a flawed process of property transaction registrations.
A government investigation threw up a list of 428 cases that prima facie violated sections of the Foreign Exchange Management Act. Complaints about other more serious cases that involved larger areas of agricultural land and conversions to settlement zoning were investigated, resulting in twelve confiscation notices being served over the past two years. On instructions from its Mumbai office, ED officials have decided to paste notices on these properties stating that the parties concerned were making unauthorized changes to the properties, even as their lawyers contest the notices as the cases are in stages of appeal and a final verdict is awaited.
In addition to the twenty notices served earlier, the ED is expected to put all the 428 cases under probe and proceed with them. In the meanwhile, the mainly British buyers have protested volubly, drawing the media, diplomats and UK politicians to their plight. Many of the FEMA violations revolve around non-compliance of the 182-day stay required prior to purchase of immoveable property, buying property whilst on a tourist visa to India, not possessing a business visa while making the purchase, having no intention to reside in the country, not complying with RBI guidelines that require certain obligations and permissions to be sought and non-possession of conversion sanads in cases where agricultural land had been converted and built over.
It's been argued persistently, with some merit, that many on the list are owners of small apartments on the coast or old houses purchased by retirees on pension benefits with the intention of wintering in Goa's sunny climes when six-month visas were being issued and Britons flocked here in droves. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar's statement that he was considering pleading with the relevant authorities for leniency in such cases, or that these should be disposed of with a penalty payment only must offer some hope to those caught in this.
Some were caught in the love-Goa bug, enticed by the real estate market that was doing a convenient reading of FEMA's rules at the time, and of course by the prices. There's also a bit of "it's a big third world country, maybe we can get away with it" ring to some of the purchases; some other cases still were of buyers being were ill-advised. An amnesty on humanitarian grounds in genuine cases only could take the edge off some diplomatic unpleasantness. The authorities have since reportedly taken steps to halt land purchases by foreigners but the sale of apartments continues in some form or other, minus ownership rights.
There have been distress sales and a lot of bad feeling even as the threats of "we will never return and find other places to spend/invest our money" continue in the patronizing tone that unfortunately dominates the tourist-host relationship in Goa. Still, it would seem the government is on the right track in promising a speedy, lenient and fair exit from the issue for especially some of the retirees whose only fault was that they liked the place enough to want to stay on.
Planting seeds of conservation
Dr Varsha KamatOur society has been getting a standing ovation for the uncanny politicization of every little issue that can be connected to environment in the name of greens. `Not in my backyard’ (Nimby) has been the benchmark hypocrisy of our social ethos. We want the luxury of remaining connected to the outside world sometimes through as many as three mobile numbers, but we don't want a mobile tower in our village; we want our child to be exposed to the rigours of the best heavyweight school curriculum with 20 kg bags strapped on their innocent gentle shoulders, barely supported by 40 kg bodies; but we don't want them to cross a safety over-bridge, which are otherwise accepted world over in the larger interests of school-going children.
Hearty congratulations to our environment minister, Alina Saldanha, an educationist herself, who has taken a bold, herculean task of proposing an experimental effort of inculcating a value-based minimal waste-material home-collection drive with students. She proposes that domestic waste collection and disposal (under parental guidance) and other such eco-friendly educational projects should be made a part of assignments/projects in the school curriculum. This could give the students marks as well as make them environmentally-aware citizens. All well educated families from the beginning of mankind have always handpicked these ideas and incorporated them in the well-being of their children, in the larger pursuit of making them complete, global citizens.
Not that there were no domestic help at home. Critically-acclaimed opponents of such initiatives might well be from the nouveau rich families who look down on the biblical values of dignity of labour. "From dust thou art, to dust thou shall return" may also be interpreted that finally all need to value the fact that all will come and return back to the same mother earth. Teaching children to collect plastic and material waste from home and training them to wash our washrooms, basins and bath chambers are indeed signs of a progressive society.
For those who shun this, all I can say is that it's time these earthly siblings of mine understand the need to inculcate these initiatives for globalisation of our next generation. Life, growth, environment, a green earth, dignity in cleansing efforts are not mere acts of politicisation of our noble minister’s efforts, but are indeed complete symbols of a progressive society.
Let's join hands in at least one more government dream. Alas it may not have the conventional RFQs (request for qualifications), DPRs (detailed project reports), tender values, financial bids, class 1 or 2 contractors. It's our children who will change this planet. It has to start from my own backyard the apolitical way. We have freely inherited the globe from our ancestors and centuries ahead our great grand children should not raise the sword of mutiny on our nondescript failed calculations on garbage and waste that we snatched away from their good destiny. If Gandhiji could clean his toilets and yet be the father of the nation, can we not at least germinate these seeds of an uprising of civic multi-centric human apathy towards domestic garbage?
5th Apr 2013
Writing On The WallWhile issuing sanction letters to the first 100 mining affected truck owners recently, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar asked the mining dependent to reduce their dependence on mining and seek alternative modes of livelihood, including in agriculture and dairy farming. It was a telling comment.
Though the State government says it is hoping to get what it terms "legal" mining started by the end of this year with the Supreme Court's sanction, the subtle shift in perspective has not gone unnoticed. From all indications it would seem iron ore exports are a sunset industry. The Federation of Indian Mineral Industries pointed out recently that ferrous exports were down 68.2 per cent in the April-January period of the last fiscal to a mere 16 million tonnes and was not expected to cross 20 million tonnes in the last financial year that ended March 31, 2013.
Goa itself delivered 40 per cent of India's total ore exports. The steel sector in India, with infinitely more clout, has been pressing for an outright ban on ore exports from India after international prices climbed to $140 a tonne. While the Central authorities desisted from agreeing to a total ban on exports, over the past few years barrier after barrier has been thrown at the ore export trade ~ freight charges have been upped and export duties have climbed from 5 per cent to 30 per cent currently.
While the steel sector, that relies on ore as raw material, was far more worried about the export of high grade ore going out of India from states like Karnataka and Odisha, Goa's own claim of exporting low grade ore that the domestic steel sector has yet to find full use for has been swept aside in the politics and economics of the situation.
Not long ago, Goa was prepping its own mining policy to work its dumps and export "rejects" at the high current prices and feed the demand for low grade ore in the international market which is not expected to last too long. The Centre-State impasse, the Shah Commission report and the Supreme Court ban has put paid to that and has brought about a reality check, it would seem. Clearly Goa can never go back to the times of unregulated exports of 54 million tonnes it hit at its peak.
Even half that amount seems highly unlikely in the future, as India's ore exports plummet this year. With the industry bottoming out, can subsidies be the answer?
In mining villages, the more pragmatic have already returned to agriculture, much before the CM gave that advice recently. All the backward and forward links to the ore export industry enjoyed windfall profits in the decade-long boom. Certainly, returns on investment in any other sector, let alone agriculture, may not be half as lucrative. But dream runs end. Stoking angst is hardly the solution for governance.
The silence on the mining front, it was admitted by the government earlier this week in the State Assembly, has brought down road fatalities in those areas drastically. In terms of Goa's gross domestic product, the primary sector that includes mining, fishing, agriculture and forestry accounts for 9.70 per cent of the GSDP only, and registered a negative growth rate of 6.43 per cent in the past couple of years, since issues over illegal mining clamps came into place. The vagaries of demand and supply, and economic pulls and pressures, are written into any trade. To pretend otherwise would be folly, and to ignore the writing on the wall, even more so.
The future of tourism
Savio PintoThe leader ‘The future of tourism’ (Herald, April 1, 2013) is a reminder that all is not well in the tourism industry. I too have my own severe reservations about this industry. Which tourism minister has worked wholeheartedly for the betterment of the tourism Industry? Which government and/or minister has worked overtime to put in place a good transport system in Goa? Instead of dedicating time and energy to bringing out a good tourism policy, the concerned ministers and bureaucrats have only managed to go on foreign jaunts in the name of promotions. How can tourism sustain itself without intelligent people at the helm? How can the tourism industry survive without a good tourism policy that spells out clear means and measures for development for at least the next five to ten years? The shortsightedness in all these factors may spell doom for the tourism sector in years to come, if the present trend goes unattended and prevails.
Infrastructure at all levels, be it the roads/highways, flyovers at the airport, must be dealt with urgently so that bottle necks of traffic jams are removed and traffic flows smoothly.
Garbage is a curse and an eyesore to villages and highways in Goa, so urgent care must be taken of this menace as well. Each constituency in Goa should be responsible for its own garbage treatment on a war footing without milking the government treasury, as in the case of the Sonsodo garbage plant, which till date has not given any desired results, but is systematically emptying the government coffers with everyone absolutely unconcerned.
The auctioning of shacks should be held and completed by August/September without fail. Licenses for a three year period must be considered. Shacks should not be permitted to be sublet. These shacks should be run as a means of self-employment, not for businessmen in any form. The limit on the numbers of shacks should be in place as the coastline doesn’t get any longer or wider.
Also, very importantly, a thorough plan must be devised to keep the city markets open till at least 9 pm. Public transport must be made people friendly and must be available till 11 pm.
Stopping of issuing any more licenses for rent a bike/scooters, who take up parking slots in the cities and deny parking for genuine vehicles, must be considered, since these vehicles are a hindrance to the general traffic as the drivers of these bikes/scooters are all domestic tourists who have no driving sense, nor respect for local authorities.
The city bus stands which are in a sorry state and a disgrace, need an urgent overhaul. Sprucing up city gardens and highways should be a priority as well. Goa must be kept crime free as this fact is equally responsible for Goa getting a notorious reputation. The right people must be taken into confidence while drafting the master plan or the tourism policy, which should take care of the future of the State of Goa and Goans alike.
4th Apr 2013
BJP’s Team 2014Two things stand out sharply in what’s been dubbed the BJP’s “Team 2014” drawn up by party chief Rajnath Singh. After days of what one would imagine was some hard-nosed bargaining behind the scenes, Narendra Modi and his protégés ~ Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Balbir Punj ~ as well as the provocative and rebellious Uma Bharati and Varun Gandhi have managed to scramble on to the reconstituted party committees, while the more experienced moderates Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha have been dispensed with.
Modi, who was dropped by Rajnath from the party’s highest decision-making body six years ago, is back on the BJP’s parliamentary board and the central election committee. His inclusion in the last slot on that coveted parliamentary board is no surprise, given the growing clamour within for his elevation after his third consecutive electoral win in Gujarat, his proximity to the some of the biggest names in Indian industry, and the backing he enjoys from a section of the BJP’s ideological gurus in the RSS. With Modi now in a position to call the shots within the party’s decision-making body, his close political aide, the former Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah who faces charges of murder, kidnapping and extortion in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case has also been accommodated in the list of the more powerful party general secretaries. So has Varun Gandhi who was only recently cleared of charges of making an inflammatory speech against Muslims in 2009.
At one level, the message from Rajnath’s 2014 rath, as it were, is unambiguous ~ the BJP is back on the Hindutva track, i.e. it has come full circle and is once again playing to consolidate the Hindu vote. And it is certainly no coincidence that Sangh hardliners are drumming up the saffron debate. The day the BJP restructure was announced, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Pravin Togadia set his followers the 2015 deadline to turn Gujarat into a “Hindu state”. Further north, Baba Ramdev said the BJP had no choice but to project the Gujarat chief minister as its PM candidate if it wanted to win the next election. But for Modi, the chariot to PM stardom is still a long ride away. As the Congress’s Kapil Sibal put it, the BJP’s real challenge in this election is Narendra Modi.
So, can the saffron party afford the Modi gamble at the risk of losing its allies in the NDA? Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has shown signs of warming up to the Congress recently. How this pans out is still to be seen. But the run-up to the 2014 general election promises interesting times for political analysts. For now, the challenge for the new Rajnath Team is the May assembly election in Karnataka.
Closer home, despite the waves he created with his 2012 “winning over the Catholics” experiment, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and the Goa unit of the BJP have also got the brush off in the reconstituted Rajnath list, which signals what little leverage the IIT-educated politician seems to enjoy with those calling the shots in the BJP’s power centre. Varun Gandhi and the controversial Uma Bharati are said to have been backed by L K Advani. Sushma Swaraj demonstrated her clout within with Pramod Mahajan’s daughter Poonam being pushed in as one of the secretaries. Rajiv Pratap Ruddy who does not enjoy an amicable relationship with Parrikar had Rajnath’s backing to make it to the 10-member general secretaries list, just as Arun Jaitley managed key slots for his own protégés.
The Goa CM may argue that he is not interested in politics outside the State. But the message is obvious. Unless Parrikar climbs down his high horse and cultivates a few high-powered connections, he may not become a major player at the Central level ~ which is a valid ambition for any popular and competent state-level politician.
Does Goa want tourism or not?
Harry JusticeMy wife and I have been taking our annual holiday in Baga, Goa for the last four years. We always stay in modest accommodation near the beach and love mixing with the local people and enjoying the Indian culture. Each year we meet with other holiday makers who like us have been coming back to India for years. Over the last year or so we have all become concerned about the local government’s attitude to tourism. There has quite rightly been a crackdown on sellers on the beach, but I do feel this could be handled more efficiently and without holidaymakers having to be involved with groups of police chasing sellers around them on their sun beds. During our last holiday in February of this year we also had the disruption caused by the shacks not being allowed to put a sufficient number of sun beds out on the beach. I understand that this is because there are some issues concerning more free space being available for local people to enjoy the beach. Surely there can be a compromise where there are still a sufficient number of beds for tourists, but still leaving ample free space on the beach.
On several occasions during my last holiday I was forced to rapidly vacate my sun bed due to the local tourist police raiding the beach and on one occasion I awoke to find a group of police actually cutting up the beds next to me with a chainsaw.
As well as trying to reduce the number of sellers, I also think the local government should concentrate more on educating the Indian holiday makers who are continually throwing glass bottles and other rubbish on the beach and in the water. This is at the very least unsightly and in the case of broken glass extremely dangerous. I usually walk along the beach from Baga to Calangute every day and I’m continually picking up rubbish and glass from the water’s edge. I notice that there does seem to be a rubbish truck that now comes along the beach each day, but there are still no rubbish bins for people to put their rubbish in.
If Goan authorities are serious about encouraging tourism, then I would suggest they need to start treating them with respect and doing everything they can to ensure they enjoy their stay and want to come back again in the future. It’s true to say that we come to Goa for the sun and beach but we also want to enjoy the local culture and feel that our presence is welcomed and valued by the Indian people.
It’s a shame but my wife and I, plus many of our friends are now thinking about going somewhere else next year. I feel very sad about this as we love Goa, the local people and their culture, but there are many other countries that seem to value tourism a lot more.
If the local Goan government really wants to encourage and develop tourism, then they need to do something now, as once people find an alternative holiday venue, it can be very hard to get them back again.
3rd Apr 2013
Road LessTravelledA year after the Goa Highways (Amendment) Bill 2012 was introduced and later passed earlier this year, and infrastructure and logistics set in place, the government is readying to implement an entry tax on vehicles coming into the State. There have been protests from taxi operators in Karwar who blocked a highway some days back objecting to the tax. They’ve raised objections, to which the Public Works Department ~ that is the department that will implement and collect the tax ~ has indicated it would not bow to.
So far, so good. Toll booths have come up at Polem, Molem, Keri, Dhargal, Kiranpani and Dodamarg, the former and latter three bringing in traffic from Maharashtra and Karnataka respectively. The fee is minimal ~ the logistics of its collection and implementation of the same, minus the corruption factor, will undoubtedly be the challenge. The Goa Daman and Diu Highways Act, 1974 always did have provisions for taxing road usage that were never implemented.
Amendments recently passed will “introduce” the road usage tax in a round about fashion, by “exempting” locally registered vehicles from the rates fixed. New clauses introduced permit government to allow concessionaires to build and maintain highways/roads/bridges and collect fees for the same, which could mean that somewhere down the line the collection of the entry tax/road usage tax could be subcontracted. What government is seemingly firm on for the moment is a trial run. It is heartening that the minister concerned said he was firm, and would not back down due to protests.
All States have tolls for road usage. Karnataka reportedly increased its entry tax per 50-seater bus from Rs 6,000 in 2005 to Rs 42,000 in 2012, charging tourist passengers on such buses rates that went up from Rs 110 to Rs 330 per passenger entering Karnataka over and above the bus fare. Last year the South Goa Tourist Coach Owners Association sought an increase in the entry tax for commercial passenger vehicles entering Goa, pointing out that neighboring states charged significantly higher passenger fees than Goa. These demands need to be examined sympathetically given the load the State’s infrastructure takes from big and small tour vehicles.
The entry tax now proposed is a small deal expected to bolster Goa’s finances by an estimated Rs 50 cr annually. It is a start, but the demand from travel agents and tourism stakeholders to levy a Rs 500 per passenger entry fee has not been picked up by government and one wonders why. Travel and tourism stakeholders have a cogent argument when they point to the tour buses and vehicles that drive in for a day, without hotel check-ins, lead to congestion on the roads and other problems without any major benefit to the economy.
Cheaper alcohol and now cheaper petrol too has increased vehicular movement into the State, especially in border areas. For Goa the additional revenue is a bonus in these cash-strapped times, and government is arguing that its superior quality roads need funds for maintenance. The State has its legitimate reasons and arguments in place, but the challenge will be to stay the course and work out the implementation of the plan efficiently.
Reject Mopa airport
Wesley Edward PereiraThe article ‘Mopa versus Dabolim : A rejoinder’ (Herald, March 10, 2013) was an interesting read. The new Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) was proposed at Sepang in Malaysia as a component of the ambitious Multimedia Super Corridor in the 1990s.The airport area was a vast open land located at a distance of about 45 km from Kuala Lumpur city and about 20 km from the new Putrajaya city. As part of the non-aeronautical activities, many large new development projects and townships were proposed on the open lands of the Multimedia Super Corridor development zone. Due to vast open areas, it was possible to construct light rail transit lines, expressways and dedicated urban highways required for the smooth flow of traffic.
Goa is a small rural-urban State and not a metro city and should not be compared with Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or any other large national/international city. The Goan population is growing at a slow rate. There is no need for large urban townships to meet the housing requirements of the local population. Also, there are no vast open areas to implement these projects and the integrated transport hub connectivity projects in Goa, without destroying existing village settlements and livelihood areas. Can we demolish our unique beautiful villages for promoting integrated transport hubs and other supporting /connectivity projects for the survival of Mopa airport?
The proposed Navi Mumbai airport along with the upgraded existing Mumbai, Dabolim and Mangalore airports can meet the long-term requirements of the region between Mumbai and Mangalore. These airports will remain economically viable even without non-aeronautical transport hub activities. There is a need to first resolve the existing problems on the Konkan railways route for operating more trains and at high speeds for goods and passenger transportation, before considering additional airports for promoting transportation hubs along the eco-sensitive Konkan region/western ghats.
The proposed 1000 km Bangalore-Mumbai Industrial Corridor will be along the six lane/eight lane national highways via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Hubli, Belgaum, Pune and Navi Mumbai. The farm produce from the region will be consumed by the large number of new industrial cum urban townships proposed along the corridor development zone. This can result in shortage of vegetables, fruits and other farm produce supplied from that region to Goa. It is therefore necessary to demarcate substantial cultivable areas at Mopa and other locations in Goa for promoting appropriate agriculture development plans, in order to meet the livelihood needs of small and marginal local farmers/villagers and for the food requirements of the local Goan population. This activity should be taken up on priority. The Mopa airport should be rejected!
27th Mar 2013
Games People PlayThe transfer of Elvis Gomes out of the Sports Authority of Goa reiterates that our political bosses do not really seem to care about the ramifications such decisions have at the bureaucratic level and on the organizational aspect vis-à-vis the run-up to the Lusofonia Games. Gomes had already built up a working relationship between overseas officials of the Games. That effort will now have to be made from scratch, as it were, by the new incumbent appointed to take his place.
This, of course, is not to cast aspersions on the capabilities of the appointee ~ rather, the point to be made is that this certainly was not an opportune time to displace an efficient officer who was coordinating with Games officials. Significant progress was achieved by Gomes in moving the files into high gear after the erstwhile Congress-led government had done precious little ever since the Games were allotted to Goa in July 2009.
What is rather surprising is that the transfer has come about despite the fact that Gomes was handpicked and appointed by none other Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, precisely in an effort to put the Games-related infrastructure on fast-track. One theory doing the rounds in official circles is that the decision to transfer Gomes indicates the growing influence of his cabinet colleagues who are now evidently ready to assert their right in government decisions but this is laughed out of court by those on the inside track who maintain it’s still a one-man government.
Is there, however, any truth in the theory that the transfer has its genesis in the differences the officer had with the minister? More importantly, the manner in which Gomes reportedly questioned officials on the manner of spending on the building of infrastructure had apparently upset many an apple cart in government circles. But then, are these officials whose spending was reportedly questioned really committed to the Games? Top-ranking officials involved in the Games were absent at the first ever Goa International Football Table (GIFT) conference last week and officials have no love lost between them in the Goa Football Development Council either. When they even bother to attend, that is!
The transfer of Gomes brings into focus the functioning of the government in matters sporting. Last year, it removed VM Prabhudessai from SAG for his alleged failure to make preparations for the Lusofonia Games. But in about a month, he was posted as the Director of Sports and Youth Affairs, thus relieving Dr Susan de Sousa. The press were fed stories that the Minister for Sports was not happy with the performance of Dr de Sousa and that she was on her way out. Then, we saw her being posted as the joint secretary for sports at the secretariat. Now, according to news reports, some officials of the Goa Football Development Council have suggested GFDC be delinked from the sports ministry so that it is brought directly under the purview of the Chief Minister.
It looks as though any farce is okay, as long as it suits the whims of politicians.
Matanhy Saldanha and Dabolim Airport
Fr Eremito RebeloA year has gone by. The admirers of Matanhy Saldanha have been sadly missing his vociferous struggles to save Goa’s identity. Traditional occupations of Goans; traditional fishing; Goa’s forests and its environment, government jobs for Goans in proportion to the percentage of minorities, saving Dabolim as the only international airport etc were the subjects very dear to his heart and he fought for these with valid reasons and emotions too.
I was very troubled to read in the newspapers on March 22, 2013, the false accusation that Matanhy too supported the Mopa airport. What a painful tribute to be paid to the memory of the late Matanhy on his first death anniversary. Instead of raising the issue of his struggle for `special status for Goa’ in the Assembly on this day, something is attributed to him which never belonged to him. He has been a good friend of mine for years and we, many a time, would sit and discuss various issues related to Goa and Goans. And, therefore, I can state without any hesitation that Matanhy always held that Dabolim airport should be retained as the only international airport in Goa. As pointed out in a Herald editorial a couple of days ago, he firmly maintained that those who say that Dabolim airport will be retained even after Mopa comes into being, were only fooling the people. Let me quote an extract from his interview to `Goa Messenger’(November 2002): “I am totally against another airport in Goa. Goa is too small for another airport. They don’t know the implications of this…. In Hyderabad, Naidu (the then CM) compelled the Indian Air Force to leave.”
I was deeply shocked that those who promised to carry forward Matanhy’s legacy have betrayed him as far as the airport issue is concerned. Poor Matanhy suffered all his life and even after his death his trusted friends betray his legacy. Et tu brutus? (You too Brutus?)
Today, the minorities feel they are being betrayed. Till date the “minority commission” which was promised in the presence of Matanhy has not seen the light of day. Let those who rule Goa know in clear terms that they are where they are because of the minority votes specially in the south. Secondly, inspite of all the assurances and promises, the village of Sancoale continues to be under the rule of PDA and therefore mega projects are passed unscrupulously. For what price? Is this not corruption?
Rulers of Goa, beware of the people of the south of Goa that have been instrumental in deciding the results of the historical opinion poll in 1967, the language struggle, SEZ struggle etc. At this juncture, I call upon the MLAs of the south, tourist taxi drivers, hoteliers, panchayats and municipalities and all the people of good will, irrespective of religious background, just as we fought against the corruption of the previous regime, we need to fight against the evils of the present too, before it is too late.
Elections to the Lok Sabha are not far. Let those who intend to contest the elections as well as their parties declare well in advance whether they support Dabolim as the only civilian international airport of Goa or not.
Let us stand up to save Dabolim as the only civilian international airport of Goa and get the navy out of Dabolim. If Hyderabad could do it, why not us? Hand in hand we shall overcome the forces of evil that work with ulterior motives. The south should rise up now, before we miss the train! “Satyamev Jayate! Let truth prevail!”
26th Mar 2013
Farming IssuesThe issues of contract farming and the proposed ban on sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists and those from outside the State have once again come up in the discussions of the Goa Assembly.Contract farming has been mooted as a possibility for decades with nothing really materializing on this count, even as agriculture has declined in Goa for a number of reasons. Increased rural literacy, the low status accorded to subsistence farming, job opportunities in other sectors, fragmentation of land and rising fertiliser, pesticide and labour costs have resulted in negative growth in the number of cultivators. Where agriculture employed 60 per cent of the populace at the time of statehood in 1987, it now comprises an estimated 16 per cent of the workforce.
The government has now said it intends to conduct in May a survey of fallow land, and indicated it intends to press such fallow land into cultivation. The Parrikar regime has also said it is serious about starting contract farming. All this comes in the backdrop of rising food prices and concerns about the food security of the country. Big corporations, Indian and foreign, are purchasing large tracts of agricultural land in African countries and elsewhere.
The practice and economics of modern agriculture is not possible with small, fragmented land holdings as currently exists in Goa. Simultaneously, rising costs of cultivation make it unviable for small farmers to cultivate fragmented land holdings. Production of crops has stagnated at 1991 levels, while the Goa state development report of the planning commission estimates that as much as 6 per cent of the net cultivated area in Goa lies fallow. This is only likely to increase. The Goa Law Commission report 2012 has mooted contract farming, a ban on the sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists and the maintenance of water bodies as embankments are crucial to agriculture.
Its recommendations that land owners and agriculturists be held to some standard of agricultural production is now being taken up, it would seem from the government's statements. All indication are the government is treading cautiously. There are thorny, emotive and tricky issues here ~ around tenancy, land ownership, khazan lands, comunidade lands, land control, family holdings et. Al.
In the coastal areas of Bardez, Salcete, Mormugao and Quepem, land prices have risen significantly and pressure to convert to real estate and tourism are dealing agriculture the single most devastating blow. Is the government serious about plugging this? There are promises for a Bill and other mechanisms, but concrete action is yet to take shape, even as more and more concrete is being planted in Goa's fields. Political pressures to permit piecemeal conversions, both legal and illegal, are a reality for all governments, present and past. Some of the region's most fertile areas, in the plains between the Mandovi and Zuari rivers, are being allowed to go under concrete.
The Law Commission rightly points out that despite subsidies to agriculture and despite the push to irrigation canals and water schemes, agrarian reforms and transfer of ownership rights to tenants and real agriculturists, agriculture declined in Goa. With an inadequate legal framework to enforce tenant associations to maintain bunds, water bodies and administer areas that were successfully taken care of earlier by comunidades, the system fell into disarray, resulting in salinity. The present government is talking about framing a policy to deal with such issues, but is yet to articulate a blueprint. This is giving rise to some unease and speculation both among tenant farmers and comunidades, especially the latter.
The Goa Khazan Land Development Bill with its proposed provisions to acquire land has already run into opposition. Much of the khazan land in the State is owned by comunidades and the overriding powers sought to be alloted to the Khazan Boards under the Bill, especially its powers to acquire land, have raised suspicion. This is even more so since some of the irrigation projects have been diverted to industrial and tourism use. Contract farming can hardly survive on rainfall and the current trajectory of resource allocation and development of irrigation has raised more questions about where planners intend to take the State. If there is seriousness in any of the matters now being articulated on agriculture there must be more openness, a clearer and detailed articulation of thoughts, so that confusion and speculation is reduced and all stakeholders get a better sense of direction.
Preparing for Easter
Freddy DiasThe sacred tridium of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the commemoration of the passion ~ suffering, death and resurrection ~ of Jesus Christ. The tridium or triduum (as it is commonly known) symbolizes courage, signifies the victory of life over death, of light over darkness and above all, gives meaning to the suffering of the innocent and the humble. Hate was defeated as Jesus pardoned his enemies. These, the holiest days of the Christian faith, are a celebration of deliverance from enslavement to the ego, passing over from 'death of the self’ to a new life of true self. Jesus is one of the most important spiritual masters, and his life and teachings are immensely instructive. His message is contained in the 'sermon on the mount’ unadulterated and taken as a whole. But do we truthfully accept the message of Jesus and reverently practice his teachings in our day-to-day life? Sadly, all is not well with the world. On reading and contemplating on the sermon on the mount delivered by Jesus, it becomes very clear how far removed we are from holistic living. Life is by no means free of deceit, chicanery and perversion.
Three factors cloud the life of an individual. According to the Bible, these are; the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Sin is implicit in all these and the fall of man is a result of the 'original sin’ which distanced him from God. It is the assertion of the faithful that Jesus came to reconcile man with God. Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection were part of God's plan for the transformation of man so that he could be liberated, so as to live to his potential. Jesus presented to people a set of values that seem to be in contradiction with the standards followed in the world today. It was the poor, not the rich who were blessed; the weak, not the strong who were to be esteemed; the pure in heart, not the sophisticated and the worldly, who understood what life was about. Righteousness, not power, money or sensual pleasure, should be man's pursuit. We should love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that misuse us, and in order that we may be worthy members of a human family. Man's body, the Bible points out, is the temple of God and the spirit of God dwells in him.
When a person accepts God, the holy spirit comes to work within and takes over his life. This opens up immense possibilities. The man who is led by the spirit of God or the spirit of truth, becomes filled with God’s love and power. It was not the intention of Jesus to launch one more religion, but to empower people to live the abundant life mindfully.
The silent victory on the cross that culminates in Easter, gives hope to the oppressed, the marginalized and the downtrodden. Death was overpowered as Jesus rose to life on the third day. Easter comes to us as God's highest gift in the person of Jesus, who exercised the fullness of divine power by healing at all levels ~ cosmic, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. We do not ourselves heal others. Rather we allow ourselves to become channels of the healing power of God with us, and in us, enabling it to be effective at all levels. But it is given to us in freedom. The power of the risen lord, real as it is, does not take away our freedom to reject it.
22nd Mar 2013
Oh, Fish!While presenting the State Budget for 2013-14, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced an extension of the commercial ban on fishing to 75 days from the existing 45 days to enable fish breeding. This certainly will warm the cockles of many a traditional ramponkar. The ramponkars have been demanding a 90-day ban on fishing for years.
As of now, the commencement of the fishing season for trawlers ends on August 1, with the Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott (GRE) clamoring for an extension by another fortnight till August 15. But with the ban now being extended by another month, it appears the woes of these traditional fishermen may be nearing the end.
The ban, of course, would be useless if it remains only on paper ~ the devil, as always, is in its implementation. There have been allegations in the past, umpteen times, of the ban being violated by trawlers and the GRE has been urging the fisheries department to strictly enforce the ban on fishing within 5 km and to seize those boats which flout the law. This appeal has over the years been largely ignored.
Though the ban is directed at the mechanized sector, traditional fishermen have now offered to abide by the ban if the order is followed in letter and spirit. There are widespread allegations that during the last season trawlers were fishing with impunity within 100 meters of the seashore, resulting in damage to the rampons and nets. Keeping this in mind, the need to enforce the ban becomes more vital than announcing a new ban. There is, therefore, the challenge the government will have to confront from the powerful trawling lobby, where there are bound to be differences vis-à-vis harvesting solar prawns which reportedly drift away if not harvested during the crucial week. Admittedly, prawns are available for a few days before the conclusion of the existing ban of 45 days, but considering the scarcity of fish there is a serious and urgent need to curtail fishing this year even if it means forgoing the solar shrimp harvest.
Moreover, the government ought to introduce and strictly implement regulations regarding permissible use of mesh-size of nets so that tiny fry is allowed to grow to adult stage. There have been instances where fish fry are sold in the market during the spawning season with impunity with no penal action forthcoming against the fishing community.
According to the State government’s Economic Survey (ES), Goa’s fish haul has reduced drastically from 1.03 lakh tonnes in 2005 to 80,680 tonnes in 2009 from a peak of a whopping 9.9 lakh tonnes in 2004-05. There is therefore a serious need to be disciplined in terms of fishing even if we have to modify our eating habits somewhat. There is little doubt that the monumental influx of migrants and the metamorphosis of Goan eating habits has adversely contributed to the near fish-famine scenario in the State. With those from other parts of India now learning the virtues of fish consumption, the supply cannot meet demand. Worse is the attitude of some Goans who consume fish as if there is no tomorrow. If this is how we continue, there will indeed be no fish on our plates tomorrow.
The time has come for a collaborative effort to revitalize fish in its habitat, away from severe human exploitation. For a start, all exports must be stopped and the hotel industry directed to import fish exclusively for their needs from outside the State. Tourism was promoted with the objective of financially empowering local residents, but if the beneficiaries of the industry are only a handful in the trade, what is the logic in Goans paying through their nose for their traditional diet? Our marine wealth must be preserved.
Goa’s prospering industrialists
Soter D’SouzaRecently democracy in Goa scaled new heights when the Chief Minister of the State joined the mining lobby in ridiculing civil society groups that are opposing mining excesses committed in the State. Even a six-month halt to mining is no small achievement for environmental activists. Unscrupulous industrialists and politicians had probably never dreamt that the power they wielded all these years to terrorize people and suppress truth would not be sufficient before the wheels of justice.
Frustration within the ranks of the corporate-politician nexus in Goa seems to be growing. Recently an industrialist made an impudent claim that ‘it is the inherent nature of Goans to resist change and to oppose new ideas’. He alleges that, ‘Goans have habitually been averse to changes that occur in their lives’. In other words, this would mean that Goans have no other work to do other than oppose development. Whether the resistance to certain kind of development by the people is actually about a ‘Goan opposition to change’ or whether it is a ‘struggle for Goan survival’ is quite obvious.
However, we respect the right of an industrialist to express his views in our democratic framework, unlike the unconstitutional and undemocratic methods that often get adopted by the mining and real estate lobby to suppress citizens’ freedom of expression. But there is one definite difference in the people’s struggles for justice when compared to that of the bids for change by industrialists. Unlike the industrialist propaganda, civil society initiatives are not undertaken from the share of profits acquired from an exploitative market. Civil society interventions are not intended to protect injustice or create an environment for further exploitation.
Unwarranted accusation by the politician-industrial nexus makes it imperative to recount the much concealed story of Goa’s progress that hinges on lies, deceit and violations of human rights, which often gets drowned amidst the corporate-politician cacophony about Goa’s development and prosperity. Ultimately, the industrialist or politician never has to risk his/her life everyday by attempting to cross the NH17 on foot with vehicles zooming at 80 km per hour, nor does he/she ride a bicycle or a two-wheeler and is made to unjustly wrestle for space with the roaring SUVs of the rich on Goa’s roads. The industrialist and politician may barely recollect those times when they used the footpaths in the city and whether they even exist now, or have given way to parking lots for the cars of the haves. The industrialist and politician may never know what it feels today to live with fluctuating voltage or lack of clean drinking water. It may scarcely matter to them how it actually feels or costs people who continue to live in their traditional ancestral houses and be encircled by the high-rises and over flowing sewers that help multiply profits for the real estate industry, but double up as factories for mosquito production and ground water pollution. For ultimately, an industrialist and/or politician will look at how people’s increasing woes could be multiplied to offer more opportunities and to market more solutions which obviously is about more profits for his/her pleasures and comforts. Mounting problems in turn helps increase vulnerability of the helpless common man who has to survive on meager incomes and can then be exploited by the industrialist and politician.
An industrialist should know that a good balance sheet in business needs to take into account every little overhead that goes into making that final product or delivery of a service. What remains after all possible deductions, is what can then be rightly declared as profit. So could we still claim that Goa’s much-hyped economic development is profitable once all the overheads are taken into account? In reality, Goa’s economic development story is about community land and water snatched by the State for peanuts with no one’s but the people’s money, and then dished out at throw away prices to industry along with loans, tax holidays, loan waivers and other benefits again at public cost.
21st Mar 2013
Lessons from the Khed bus tragedyIn one of the worst accidents on the NH-17 ever, death came calling to thirty-seven passengers of the ill-fated Goa-Mumbai overnight luxury bus that was transporting 52 passengers in its non-AC coach. From reports it seems the bus driver was driving rashly and must have been over-speeding on the road, when he came down the incline and curve that precedes the Bharna bridge over the Jagbudi river in Khed taluka of Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra.
From all accounts, the bus swerved to the right for some reason and careened off the century old bridge's frail railings forty feet down onto the rocks near the side of the river bed. The impact of the nosedive caused the bus to turn turtle, killing many instantly and injuring fifteen others. The driver himself is in lockup, without very serious injuries though the cleaner and spare driver perished in the accident.
For everyone, the accident brings to the fore several questions that must be asked and considered, if fatal accidents of this sort have to be avoided in future. Though the driver seems to have erred seriously in driving rashly, is he the only person responsible? The bridge by all accounts is an accident prone site and as a report in this newspaper brought out, there was a similar accident at the spot in January too. It is a century-old bridge, constructed by the British and has never been replaced. Some tenders for construction of a new bridge seems to have been pending before the National Highway Authority of India for a year. Even assuming a new bridge was in the pipeline, questions must be asked about the existing bridge.
Could not the NHAI have made better provisions to have stronger barricades up at the side of the bridge, instead of the frail railings in place? It may not have stopped this particular bus from plunging down the side, but far too often authorities wait for the big fix to a problem, and forget that the devil may lie in the details, and even small temporary interventions could make an accident prone site safer till the big fix is in place.
From all accounts, the road engineering at the site is hazardous ~ an incline, a bend in the road, before an old bridge with minimal protective side barricades ~ and accidents on the site are known to have occurred regularly. Was the NHAI made aware by local authorities in the area about this? Could something have been done? Bus operators point out that the NH-17 has almost 50 narrow bridges on its stretch where only one heavy vehicle can pass at a time. The highway lags behind many other highways that are newer and better designed. Some 200 mainly privately operated buses ply the Goa-Mumbai route daily, even in the lean season. That would approximate 73,000 trips on the highway, or at least 60,000 a year.
For every major accident, there are thousands of safe journeys that have been accomplished on the NH-17 through the years, but that is little consolation for those who died or lost near ones in this tragedy. It brings home the point though that in road safety, everybody is a stakeholder, from the people at the top to those at the bottom, and due diligence by everybody down this stream would help reduce fatalities. It is obvious that better systems are needed for this segment of transportation. Right from the methodology of ticketing, the rates charged, maintenance of buses, driver checks et al.
The private sector running the system on the crowded Mumbai-Goa route provides a useful service in use for decades, that for the most part runs smoothly, but some controls and standards must be bought to bear on the system. That became clear when the Khed police were hard-pressed to identify passengers, with an inadequate passenger list. Authorities meanwhile need to address accident spots, and plug gaps that have seen the NH-17 register so many accidents on the past three years as admitted by the Maharashtra home minister. 828 dead and 2,411 injured in the past three years on the NH-17 calls for serious attention and introspection.
Pay attention to tourism
Adelmo FernandesThe ban on mining activities has had an adverse effect on the Goan economy. Though the chief minister is putting up a brave front, the ground reality is that the reserves in the government coffers are diminishing rapidly. So the only viable alternative for the government was to develop the tourism sector like never before. The government should have seen tourism as the bread and butter of the state. But unfortunately it was not to be. Not improving the infrastructure relating to tourism is like killing the goose that lays golden eggs. After Jammu and Kashmir, Goa has the potential of being the second best tourism destination in the country. But unfortunately states like Rajasthan and Kerala have overtaken Goa. There are various reasons for this pathetic state-of-affairs. But the main reason is that successive governments have shown a step-motherly attitude towards this sector. Goa can be promoted as a family destination. This can be done by providing the necessary infrastructure like theme-parks, a planetarium, beautiful gardens, massive aquariums, entertainment for children like the “Wonder-La” in Bengaluru, a zoo, botanical gardens etc. But as of now the state has absolutely nothing to offer families who want to come here on a vacation.
Goa can be promoted as a medical tourist destination. Kerala has shown the way how medical tourism can be started by introducing Ayurveda in a big way. On the contrary what Goa has to offer are a few massage-parlours, many of which are of ill-repute. Goa can also be promoted as a sports tourist destination, especially in the game of football for which Goans are well known. With a rich history, Goa has a lot to offer by way of heritage tourism. Adventure tourism is another aspect that can be developed in a big way. But unfortunately what Goa has been offering to the tourists is only beach tourism. This too has a flawed policy. This year the beach shacks have come up as a late as November because of the delay by the government in issuing licenses. The number of rapes and murders of tourists that have taken place in Goa has brought a bad reputation to the state, as has the alleged drug mafia-police nexus. The taxi-drivers take the tourists for a ride both literally and figuratively. At the beach, tourists are heckled by lamanis. Unfortunately Goa is better known for the booze which flows freely. Many even look at Goa as a place where women are easily available. This is most unfortunate.
While Goa is being promoted as a tourist destination, unfortunately it does not have the necessary infrastructure to handle such an increase of vehicles. To tackle the problem of garbage, the government needs to evolve a code of conduct for tourists so that they do not cause nuisance and throw garbage in the open. The government needs to hike the fees on permits necessary for carrying liquor bottles across the state border several-fold, so that low-spending tourists bring in at least some revenue. It is seen that some tourists consume alcohol in public places on the streets, outside the wholesale wine shops, in the parks and gardens at night and on the beaches. They leave behind empty beer bottles, soda bottles and pet liquor bottles as well as plastic glasses thus littering the surroundings. Every successive government has sent delegations on study tours to other tourist destinations in the world to improve the infrastructure in the state. But unfortunately the improvement in the tourism sector that followed these foreign jaunts at the cost of the state exchequer has been minimal. The chief minister has increased the budget outlay for tourism from Rs 95 cr in 2011-2012 to Rs 261 cr in 2012-2013. But the ground reality is that not much has been achieved by way of attracting tourists to the state. The government seems to have big plans of setting up helicopter rides, cable-car drives and hot air balloon expeditions ~ when what is required is basic infrastructure and tackling the garbage problem that is looming large.
20th Mar 2013
Getting Down to BusinessAfter a year practically devoted to the mining impasse and its inconvenient consequences to the government, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has decided to roll up his sleeves and get going with the serious business of governance. There’s a bit of the engineer, the financial juggler and the pragmatist in the infrastructure focused Budget Manohar Parrikar presented in the Goa Legislative Assembly on Monday. But what stands out really is not the spin on taxes, the promise to mop up revenue leakages or the over optimistic 12 per cent growth. Monday brought out the political strategist in Parrikar at his best. Here he is now in the consolidation phase of his second term. With the 2014 Lok Sabha election just a year away, it was imperative for the chief minister to assuage ruffled egos and reach out to specific communities and groups that have been annoyed by his turnaround on some crucial issues like mining and casinos and have felt snubbed by his inaccessibility. (The chief minister is very accessible to the general public with grievances to redress at his weekly sessions in the Panjim Collectorate, but groups and individuals looking for an appointment have been kept waiting for months, if not a whole year.) His Budget speech in Konkani may have left financial analysts flailing in the dark, but it served to electrify the Saraswat lobby (probably the only ones who could read the speech printed in Devnagari Konkani) and their reactions were a hearty thumbs up.
With a long, politically stable four years before him, Parrikar has decided to bring to the front burner the problematic medium of instruction issue. By appointing an advisory council to find a solution agreeable to all sides, the chief minister has distanced himself from the decision making and also bought time for the government, given that both the Konkani and Marathi lobbies that favour primary education in the mother tongue had made common cause to target the government. It’s not so much the balancing act on finances that stands out in this otherwise stodgy Budget, but Parrikar’s very clever ploy of appeasing the language groups that could have soured some of the feel-good of his 2012 victory that might have rubbed off on the 2014 battle for the South Goa seat. And so Konkani and Marathi pre-primary schools are being heavily encouraged with a grant of Rs 2 crore allocated specifically to them, apart from continuing with the aid of another Rs 2.5 crore to primary schools in the regional languages. An interesting sidelight of the Monday session was how the chief minister managed to use his Budget to pander to the various groups that occasionally revive the language dispute purely to stay politically alive. So while the Konkani Akademi and the Gomantak Marathi Academy got Rs 1 crore each in equal measure to keep them afloat, the chief minister set aside a budget of Rs 2 crore for what is to be an impressive Goa Konkani Academy Bhavan. The message is clear: There’s something for everybody, specially the BJP’s coalition partner, the MGP. But Parrikar went the extra mile to underscore the fact he is, after all, a Saraswat Konkani.
Some of the chief minister’s progressive ideas in this Budget on education deserve praise. After criticism initiated in these pages last year that the Laadli Laxmi scheme was no better than a state sponsored dowry, the government will allow applicants to utilise the fund for the girl’s higher education if she so desires. In higher education, money will be invested in improving infrastructure in government colleges and the State sponsored interest free loans are being substantially hiked. One only wishes the government would focus more on the education sector in Goa, rather than the entertainment sector which has brought the worst kind of tourists here—both foreign and domestic. Why should Goan students have to make a beeline for Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune for advanced education? Why are our standards in education so much lower than other metros? These are questions that need to be seriously addressed by the government.
Though the tourism sector has got a mixed bag from a chief minister it was pinning its hopes on with the hike in luxury tax to 12 per cent and a 60 per cent rebate for the offseason months, the decision to extend the fishing ban from 45 days to 75 days is welcome indeed. But what is a serious concern is the government’s rather naive assumption that when it comes to tourism, more is better. In the post-budget media briefing Parrikar said Mopa and the new tourism infrastructure were being planned with an eye on the increasing arrivals. Tourism traffic has hit the 2.7 million figure and very soon we’re headed for 6 million arrivals. The more tourists, the better for Goa, Parrikar said.
Look where we are with tourist arrivals currently at twice the State’s population. The infrastructure to handle airport arrivals, waste and sewage is years away from being created, not to mention the siege on the local populations on the coast. Four tourists to every Goan. Are we serious?
Rooting for soccer
Dr Richard CabralThe sports policy of the Goa government has been long overdue. But why do Goans always have to live in splitsville? It reminds me of the anecdotal remark that wherever there are three Goans, there will be two clubs and the third will be thinking which one to join or not to join.
Keeping personal agendas aside, it would be a great idea if all the major football clubs in Goa joined hands to form just one Goan football club. If such an initiative is taken up, then the following would be the benefits:
1. There would no longer be divided loyalties as there are now. Some Goans support Dempos, other support Salgaoncars and still others support Churchill Brothers and Sporting Clube de Goa (to name only those that are in the IFL).
2. This will be good for supporter-sustainability as Goa is a small place with a total population of only around 1.4 million. The total football supporter base will not be more than 20 per cent of this total and only about 5 per cent will be die-hard football supporters. All can be made supporters of only one club. Remember the crowd support during the Santosh trophy days?
3. This will also help in making the club run on professional lines like the English premier league clubs and one can start visualizing profits.
4. Today, the word Goa and the place Goa have acquired international repute, hence the club can cash in on its brand name Goa as a city state. Most clubs around the world are named after places/cities. Think globally!
5. All Goans will automatically align themselves with the club and take great pride in its name and performance.
6. Since only one club will be representing Goan interests, there will be more funds at the disposal of the club authorities (each professional club must be spending not less than Rs 5 cr per annum) and hence quality players and coaches can be hired from around the world.
7. Even among Goan players, it will be a dream come true to play for such a top international club. Hence, there will be more efforts put in by Goan boys to excel at the highest level. There will be other collateral benefits.
8. If this vision is nourished and taken to its logical conclusion, the day may not be far when this Goan club will become an Asian powerhouse.
9. Let us call the club, Football Clube de Goa. Think over it. Viva Goa!
16th Mar 2013
A sign of the timesAs mentioned in these columns, in choosing not just a Vatican outsider but a Pope with long pastoral experience in the form of the 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the cardinals at the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, have given the 1.2 billion strong Roman Catholic church a ray of new hope. And his words and deeds on his first day as Pope have only strengthened that hope.
Bergoglio'e elevation to the papacy was a surprise to those who had shortlisted three other front-runners, though he was the runner-up in the 2005 election that saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger become Pope Benedict XVI. In that election, Bergoglio was the choice of moderates among the German, US and Latin American cardinals.
In the conclave that began Tuesday and ended with a decision of 77 votes in the fifth voting within the Sistine Chapel, Bergoglio's choice is described as a surprise by columnists who imagined the prelates would choose somebody younger. But already in the jubilation of the new Pope's election, what stands out is the Jesuit's choice of the papal name Francis after St Francis of Assisi, a man who eschewed wealth and chose a life of poverty. The symbolism is reflective of Pope Francis' own choices ~ living in a simple Buenos Aires apartment, riding the tube and bus to his offices, eschewing the luxurious dwellings of high office in Argentina, slipping into the back pews of churches to pray quietly like any other Catholic, and cooking his own meals. Known for his missionary work, with experience of working in the slums of Buenos Aires, caring for the poor gives the new Pope a down to earth charisma that many would say is needed now more than ever.
For lay Christians who oftentimes have to deal with priests who put dogma above true Christian compassion and understanding in dealing with the laity, Bergoglio's stance on social outreach, and his sharp criticism of priests that "clericalized the Church" and "condemned" many holds much hope that this stance will permeate down to parishes in the oriental church.
The selection of a Pope from the Americas is being hailed as a huge but long overdue step for the papacy, that managed to stay within Europe and the first world for centuries. But other factors also bring hope in this new election. Bergoglio's biographers have described him as a balancing force, with the ways of a monk, his simplicity and humility expected to be huge advantages in steering the church though its current challenges. In choosing a Latin Amercan Pope, albeit with Italian origins ~ the focus, according to analysts, is expected to move to universal issues of poverty and the challenge of new evangelical sects, and away from the issues of growing secularism, materialism and the scandals that dominate in the western world.
That Bergoglio is a strong believer in Roman Catholic traditions and is conservative on issues that the Vatican would like to be was also something that commentators say influenced his fellow cardinals in the run up to the vote. Bergoglio's experiences is rebuilding the Argentinian church after its own troubled past, his late entry into the priesthood at 32 et al are all contributory factors to his choice.
The Italian theologian Massinio Faggioli said of Bergoglio :"He seems to be a good compromise. He's a mix of different things." Faggioli thinks the new Pope's more nuanced personality ~ even on traditional hardline church stances ~ and because he is not representative of any one side, or comes from within the Vatican hierarchy, or like Benedict XVI "with the glorious past as a theologian" will help his views find more acceptance even with those who disagree.
A co-author of his biography said Bergoglio was "absolutely capable of understanding the necessary renovation without any leaps into the unknown" and would thus be a balancing force. That he hails from the order of the Society of Jesus, "known for its major role in education and the intellectual prowess of its members", cannot be less significant. But what is expected to be far more cathartic is the new Pope's stated belief in the church's role in facilitating faith and not just regulating it ~ a position that can only bring hope to its followers.
A new Pope, a new hope
ADELMO FERNANDESThe selection of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church has surprised many people the world over including several international journalists. But the 115 Cardinals were led by the Holy Spirit in selecting Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the first Latin American, Pope ~ the first Jesuit too, who will lead the 1.2 million Roman Catholics spread across the globe. It was indeed the hand of God that led to his selection. God’s ways are indeed mysterious, at times beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Pope Francis comes from a developing country. Hence Roman Catholics living in India can also look forward to steps being taken by the new Pontiff to improve their plight too. More than anything else, what has probably caught the attention of the world, is that a person who leads a humble life has been elected to the lead the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is humility personified. As a Cardinal, he has lived a life in the true spirit of Jesus Christ when He walked on the face of the earth more that 2000 years ago. As the Bishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio lived in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop’s residence. He gave up his chauffeur-driven limousine and travelled by public transport, cooked his own meals and worked on the streets of Buenos Aires where he helped the poor with missionary zeal.
We Roman Catholics could have not asked for a better person of God to lead the Church in these turbulent times. Catholics all over the globe should pray regularly and fervently for the new pontiff so that, led by the Holy Spirit, he will guide the Catholic Church in the direction in which God wants the Church to move ahead.
15th Mar 2013
Hand Of GodCardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis and poised to be more of a popular hero than Diego Maradona in Argentina, may have had the “hand of God” in his elevation as the supreme pontiff of the Church ~ being the first Latin American Pope and also the first from outside Europe in more than a thousand years. The 1978 selection of Karol Józef Wojtyla of Poland as the first non-Italian Pope in 400 years had electrified the Catholic world, and John Paul II went on to become one of the world’s most influential leaders. By elevating a cardinal from outside Europe, the conclave at Rome evidently hopes to achieve a similar effect.
Pope Francis, a Jesuit with Italian roots, hails from a South American society characterized by great disparity of wealth, where materialism, secularism and general disillusionment is rife. Obviously, the new pontiff is aware of the ground reality of the Christian world and it is expected that he will focus his attention on social justice and poverty, and try to speak to the world in a new way, as it were.
What is significant is the fact that during the election of the last three Popes, the predominantly Italian cardinals during the conclave have been electing non-Italians ~ a Polish, a German and now an Argentinean, which is a good indicator that the college of cardinals is acutely aware of the need to reach out to Catholics on a global scale. Through the election of Karol Józef Wojtyla (as John Paul II) from Soviet-dominated Poland there was an attempt to indicate that the Church was trying to send a message about the great struggle of the time. The election of Pope Francis can be regarded as a sequel to the revival of the Catholic faith in South America and for his effective role in augmenting faith in the region.
Cardinal Bergoglio was seen as a person who could cut through barriers of not only economic exploitation but also those within the church. On the flip side, he had been accused of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses during the 1976-83 years of terror in Argentina where thousands were killed and children and babies disappeared. But he is also known to have regularly hidden people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features enabling him to escape across the border. This, of course, was carried out in secret, at a time when the church publicly endorsed the junta despite State terror unleashed by the generals on civilians. The situation in Argentina during this period has a parallel with Goan priests in the erstwhile Portuguese-African colonies, who under the dictatorial Portuguese regime had to constantly do a tight-rope walk ~ sermonizing about social justice and at the same time ensuring that nothing said from the pulpit would be seen as “seditious” lest there was a crackdown on the church.
More significantly, Cardinal Bergoglio is known not to be a defender of clerical privilege whilst being sensitive to pastoral realities. In fact, he assailed priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock, terming it “hypocritical neo-clericalism". He has has also expressed sympathy for HIV-AIDS victims, even visiting a hospice to kiss the feet of a dozen AIDS patients. He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
In the end, Pope Francis’ reign will not be defined by the terms of the rest of the world or by the priorities of the media. It will be characterized by how he meets the challenges of governance, diplomacy and discipline within the church. To start with, he is expected to bring about a sense of unity within the Vatican bureaucracy. He begins on a note of novelty ~ the first Jesuit, the first Pope from the new world, and the first to take the name Francis. It remains to be seen whether these novelties will strengthen his resolve of reforming a Church which is in some disarray.
Stop financial assistance packages
S KamatThe financial assistance announced by the CM to the mining-affected families has been increased from Rs 6,000 per month as promised during the Assembly session to Rs 12,000 per month in some of the new schemes released recently. This increase raises the question about where this money is coming from? Is this not public money? If so, the people of the State not only have the right to know but also to decide why such largesse should be handed out. From already depleted revenues to the exchequer as we are seeing now, the CM should not squander the funds needed to run the State government and for development purposes.
Why should the mining-affected families look towards the government for assistance when the problem related to mining has been a business risk that they took, well aware of all the facts involved? When the going was good, they enjoyed much revenues obtained, hence they should now be willing to accept liability when things have gone wrong. This applies in the case of all the truck and barge owners while with contract labour, is it not the mining companies who should be persuaded to be sympathetic to the workers? These are the workers who helped the mining companies earn windfall profits ~ when mining resumes these same workers will be required for their operations, so should any measures of financial and/or rehabilitation packages not come from them first?
Why is the government not ordering the mining companies to issue assistance measures, but is instead jumping into the fray itself ~ well aware that it is not their responsibility to provide any assistance? Why should we at all encourage it as an industrial activity since all it has done is to rape the environment and bring in unimaginable illegalities? We should be prepared to put a permanent ban on mining in the State and encourage people involved in it to take up other means of earning a livelihood. The chief minister is going at a snail’s pace in pursuing illegalities in mining and bringing the culprits involved in it to book. With the announcement of the relief packages to the mining affected people, it is almost as if he is siding with the mining lobby and telling them not to worry and that the government would foot the bill. What he should have been doing is that he should have pushed them to the wall with threats of criminality or whatever in relation to their involvement in illegal mining and forced them to spend money for the rehabilitation of the mining affected people. For the sins of a few, the whole of Goa is being made to suffer because of the lopsided and distorted thinking of our CM. When money like this is being doled out there will be many a beneficiary who is not entitled for this assistance but manages to get it because of his political connections and a large part of the money will be swindled and/or find its way to party coffers.
Therefore the financial assistance packages for the mining affected people as conceived by the CM should be stopped immediately and the funding if at all for these schemes should be obtained from those operating mining leases in the areas where these mining affected people live. The government is not required to step in. The mining affected people being given support is uncalled for.
14th Mar 2013
The Only OppositionIn an exhaustive interview to this newspaper last week after he completed a year of this term, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said he didn’t “appreciate” what had happened in Margao on March 2 when a large mob of people from the mining industry heckled and tried to intimidate participants at a seminar on the Shah Commission Report. The police had been asked to “bring these people (in) and warn them that if this happens again we’ll have to take action against them,” he said. They had also been told to book and register cases against them. But so far, as environmentalists Ramesh Gauns and Claude Alvares pointed out to Governor BV Wanchoo on Monday, no action has been taken against those who were a part of the well-orchestrated Margao attack. On the contrary, the chief minister has drawn up an elaborate financial package to bail out the “mining dependent” affected by the shutdown of the iron ore industry last year and widened its coverage to include people from Tivim, apart from Sattari, Bicholim, Sanguem, Dharbandora and Quepem.
The chief minister has unambiguously demonstrated where his sympathies lie and why the mining industry will remain the chief priority of this government, practically to the exclusion of all else. Crores of rupees of taxpayers’ money will be diverted to assist a class of people that were engaged in a business that was pitted with illegalities. And now with the government picking up the tab, those who profited enormously ~ “enough to sustain seven generations of their families”, to use the chief minister’s own words ~ are conveniently being absolved of their responsibility to the people at the lower end of the scale in the business.
It’s hardly surprising that the barge owners too are now queuing up for their share of the government’s politically-motivated-public-funded largesse. The Goa Barge Owners Association is pushing for the government to green signal mining on iron ore dumps. It also wants waivers on loans. Some of those in this business own half-a-dozen barges and would be worth a few hundreds of crore rupees individually. But more intriguingly, the barge lobby wants the government to recover fines from “defaulters” in the mining industry and pass on these public funds again as a bailout package to them.
Why has Parrikar ~ who till his election last year had spoken so disparagingly of the mining lobby and the damage the business had inflicted on Goa ~ effected such a complete turnaround on the issue? The answer lies perhaps in political psychology and strategy. If you’re in the business of politics in India, it’s convenient to cultivate many avatars. Political posturing is second nature to most politicians. If a few pot-shots at the mining lobby, the casinos, and corruption were going to win him the popular vote that was the line Parrikar the politician was prepared to take pre-March 2012.
With the 2014 Lok Sabha election now round the corner, it has perhaps become politically expedient to side with those with deep pockets, and to be seen as benevolent toward a crucial segment of voters.But the image that stands out in the current standoff between the chief minister and the environmentalists ~ who he seems to perceive as the biggest stumbling block to the advancement of his agenda for the current term ~ is the two green activists who had to approach the Governor on Monday, asking that he at least take note of the brazen muscle-flexing against those that dare speak out against the mining scam, and the government’s lack of response to these tactics of intimidation. The fact that just a handful of people have had to step into the Opposition space and show the spine and courage to take on the rampant excesses of the mining sector is a telling comment on the level of the political class ~ both in the Opposition and the ruling party ~ in Goa.
Far more was expected of the likes of Environment Minister Alina Saldanha, who has so far been reduced to a mere spectator on the sidelines of a government perceived to run almost entirely by one man despite the man in question denying it. Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal has recently issued notices to the Centre and State governments over CRZ violations and the loud parties near the turtle-nesting protected areas of the Morjim and Mandrem coast. The petitioner in this case is once again the green group, Goa Foundation. One wonders what political motivation held back the State’s environment ministry from acting in these cases.
Albertina AlmeidaTime was when International Women’s Day was only celebrated by Bailancho Saad. With the setting up of statutory bodies, such as the Goa State Commission for Women, an establishment approach towards Women’s Day ~ aiming at mass participation with many clueless about its significance ~ came into being. The Ravi Naik pioneered Year of Women gatherings gave women an incentive of Rs 100 to attend. Commercial establishments were not to be left behind and used the day as a launch pad to market products to women. A somewhat sensitive press and those alert in the movement prevented the commercial appropriation of the day. A significant meeting that has attained national significance is a rally organized at Mangalore by the Forum Against Atrocities on Women (Mahila Dourjnya Virodi Vedike, Karnataka), a coalition of about 100 women’s and progressive groups. The rally raised issues against the saffronisation of Karnataka’s coastal belt and the increasing attacks on women.
The 2013 International Women’s Day has been particularly significant in Goa, as it comes in the aftermath of two horrendous cases that attracted public outrage. It also comes in the aftermath of an environment that is, in view of these happenings, made socially conducive for women to speak out. All this has set the stage for the tone and flavor of the International Women’s Day programmes this year.
Some celebrated it or rather commemorated it for one day, and others had a whole week of celebrations. The overarching theme in all programmes was evidently, the right of women to safety from violence and from assaults to their bodies.
The CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) Airport Unit, had a session on prevention and dealing with sexual assault on women as part of their safety week celebrations. The participants included male and female CISF personnel posted at the airport, wives of CISF personnel, and some airlines personnel.
Also quietly ensconced in a little meeting on the eve of Women’s Day in Panjim were citizens who co-related gender and other forms of marginalization, like tribal status. The meeting then issued a joint statement by some citizens demanding police apply provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, to what is known as the Vasco school sexual assault case. What is interesting is this law is conveniently ignored and rarely applied, although its provisions are much more stringent. So much for the stated support of the present government, to the tribal community!