11th May 2013
Rain Water HarvestingGoa gets about 3000 millimetres of rainfall annually. Out of this, only about one-fourth is usable, the rest runs into the Arabian Sea. The State is said to have a storage capacity of 1300 million cubic metres (mcm). This quantum approximately remains constant, although there are regional variations subject to local land forms and land structures.
Officials of the Water Resources Department (WRD) reveal that although the available capacity is adequate for current needs, some measures of water conservation are necessary, because ultimately resources are fixed while demands keep rising.
Over the last four decades, Goa’s population has quadrupled, while the average availability of usable water has correspondingly decreased. Traditionally, rivers are the main source of water, accounting for 85 per cent of the total water resources in the State. However, each of the rivers have their individual problems while demand for water from tourists and the floating population keeps growing. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, owing to negligence of the authorities concerned and the consumers themselves, fresh water resources have declined considerably in quality and quantity. The ever increasing groundwater depletion is a major threat to people. Studies reveal that there is a decrease of one foot to four feet in the ground water level.
Apart from rivers (some of which have become too polluted to be used for human consumption), groundwater is the only hope for our fresh water needs. But, due to unplanned urbanization and haphazard industrialization, the reservoirs of groundwater are fast depleting ~ arid rainwater harvesting is the only solution.
Some of the common queries that people ask themselves often are; What is rainwater harvesting? Does it work? Can we harvest rain in our homes? Who benefits? What will the quality of the water be? How much does it cost? Rainwater harvesting means filling rainwater when it falls and using it. We can store this water in tanks or use it to recharge groundwater. There are two major techniques of rain water harvesting: a) storing rain water in containers, tanks et al for ready use and b) rainwater charged into the soil for withdrawal later.
The latter is a new concept and some of the structures used are recharge pits that are constructed one to two metres wide and 3 metres deep. These are filled with boulders, gravels and coarse sand. Wells are utilized as recharge structures; water passes through filter media before diverting the water into a dug well. 0ther structures include trenches, recharge wells and lateral shafts with bore-wells. Experts state that rainwater harvesting is an effective tool to gather rain water and store it appropriately. It helps utilize a large quantity of good quality water, which would otherwise go to waste creating several problems on the way. Rainwater harvesting is a simple, economical and eco-friendly technique to preserve every drop of water falling on the earth.
Structures to harvest rain require little space. A dried bore well, a row of soak pits or tanks concealed below the ground is all that is needed. The open spaces, rooftops and ground can be used as catchment (surface to catch rain) area. By this, groundwater will gain too. While doing this, we must ensure not to direct sewage water into it. Rain water is like distilled water ~ water in its purest form ~ if we do not mix it with contaminants. The cost of installing a rain water harvesting unit is based on the size of the building and various other considerations.
The numerous lateritic plateaus in Goa with unique geographical features are ideally designed for ground catchment system and augmentation through water recharging. These plateaus occupy a strategically important place in the socio-economic development sector as the major industrial and human settlements are located on and along the plateaus. Growing anthropogenic activities on the plateaus have caused depletion and deterioration of groundwater inside the plateaus, including the drying up of several natural springs along plateau slopes. There has been further reduction of this natural recharge due to construction of buildings, roads and pavements, occupying the top surface of most plateaus today.
Besides, most plateaus are geographically located in proximity with the sea. This causes the danger of seawater flowing in and making the groundwater saline as the pressure at the water table tends to decrease with the constant withdrawing of water. Towards this end, it is pointed out that due to over-pumping of aquifers and the resultant drop in the water table, there are salt water intrusions into the ground water system.
Officials of the Water Resources Department, (WRD) assert that besides the high level of salinity, there are other reasons why rainwater harvesting has acquired urgency in Goa; it is the prospect of sharing our rivers with our neighboring states. So in order to keep pace with the ever-increasing anthropogenic stress on our groundwater regime, it is necessary to develop and adopt certain measures to protect aquifers from further depletion and deterioration for availing safe and sustainable fresh water supplies. Rain water harvesting is one of the most important measures needed to be adopted in a big way in Goa, a State blessed with plenty of rainfall and other natural resources.
The State government on its part has adopted certain measures like building a series of mini dams called bandharas across the State’s rivers, and these measures are reaping quick benefits. The advantage of these bandharas is that there is water storage within the river banks, and no agricultural or forest land gets submerged even during highest rainfall. They are eco-friendly structures and help in recharging groundwater along the river-course.
The construction of bandharas has resulted in increasing irrigation supply while water for domestic use has also increased, WRD officials claim. Besides, the government has financed erection of 445 jalkunds (low cost rainwater harvesting structures) and 264 ponds in the agricultural sector in various parts of the State. The government, through a recent notification on additional regulations to the Goa Regulation of Land (Development and Building Construction) Act, 2008, has stipulated that buildings which have plot areas more than 4000 sq m and with units more than 40 flats, have to make provision for rain water harvesting and waste management in their plans.
Builders and architects are required to show plans for rainwater harvesting and vermin-composting when they submit building plans for approval. The Act was notified on September 9, 2010, but the recent amendments make it mandatory for private buildings to make provisions for rain water harvesting atop roofs/terraces or on a land-based catchment area in their plans submitted for approval.
These provisions must be based on the Water Resources Department’s 2008 policy, and all the storage structures created for rain water harvesting have to follow the provision of the design and specifications as laid down in the Goa Public Health Act, I985 for prevention of vector borne diseases. However, rain water harvesting is optional for those builders who incorporate sewerage treatment plants or waste water recycling systems in their building projects.
Sadly, an earlier policy introduced in the State to carry out rainwater harvesting by private house owners has not yet gained momentum, although the government provides assistance in the field. Since 2008, the State government has introduced a policy of rooftop harvesting, wherein it offers funds for trapping and collecting rain water in underground cisterns or storage containers. But the policy has failed to generate interest amongst house owners in spite of the fact that government offers Rs 50,000 for water harvesting installation, or 50 per cent of the cost incurred for such a measure, whichever is less.
It is high time we, the common people realize the importance of conserving water and take it as our own responsibility to rectify the situation. We have to stop being victims of the vagaries of nature. The need of the hour is to tighten our belts and start a mass revolution for water conservation.
10th May 2013
The Power of CAG
D E RobinsonAs a tax consultant in active practice for the last four decades, one realizes that tax practice requires not only knowledge of tax law but also of accountancy. Tax lawyers need grounding in accounts and chartered accountants in tax law, to be successful in tax practice.
During the last four decades I had occasion to encounter countless number of revisions, reassessments and rectifications of concluded assessments made on the basis of audit objections. Invariably many of these were not acceptable and were challenged in appeal. In almost 90% of the cases the appellate authorities have held the audit objections erroneous. Enormous time of the departmental officers and professionals is wasted and the tax payer subjected to avoidable harassment and expense. The demand raised consequent to such challenged assessment is normally collected to the extent of 50% till disposal of appeal. The refund received earns a paltry 6% interest while delayed payment of tax is subjected to interest at 12%. The refund received is also subject to erosion in value by inflation.
Even when assessments are made without application of mind, on occasions indifferently, oblivious of the cruelty to which the tax payer is subjected to, there is no provision in the Act to compensate the tax payer. I am not aware of even a single instance when the assessing officer has been punished for an over pitched unwarranted assessment made. Provisions of law in the Income Tax Act that enable the commissioner of income tax to revise over assessments without any petition by the tax payer, and refund the excess tax collected have never been brought into practice. Despite the fact that nearly 75% of the assessments concluded by making additions to the returned income do not survive the test of appeal I have not come across a single instance of the commissioner voluntarily revising any over assessment.
Re-assessment revised assessment and rectified assessment fall in a harsher category. These are concluded assessments revisited and the tax payer punished for the alleged lapse of the assessing officer. Assessments made after audit objections, are in such an elite class. Rationally the audit, the arm of the CAG, should be held accountable if such assessments do not stand the test of appeal. Where such assessments are reversed in appeal, the tax payer should not only be entitled to market rate of interest on the refunded amount, but also additional compensation. The concerned auditor should be appropriately penalized. If the limitation for revisiting the assessment had lapsed, the assessing officer would face punishment by sheer reason of the audit objection. By the very same rationale the auditor merits punishment for raising an unsustainable objection and causing inconvenience and loss to the tax payer. Authority to exercise power should not be bereft of accountability irrespective of the source of such authority. Once an objection is raised even the pending assessments suffer a twist and follow the audit view. Often the assessing officers admit that they are convinced the audit is erroneous, and yet for fear of being required to furnish explanations, they would follow a line of least resistance and make the addition not really warranted. All such unwarranted objections severely strain the appellate hierarchy besides causing material loss and agony to the tax payer. It is true that public servants are protected against bona fide errors committed and cannot be proceeded against. If large numbers of assessments are nullified in appeal, could any one reasonably consider the errors bona fide? In a single financial year, of 324 special leave petitions filed in respect of income tax matters before the Supreme Court by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, 300 were dismissed in limine. If the petitions had not been filed recklessly and capriciously, could such a large number be dismissed at the threshold?
There is a court ruling that for reasons of audit objection alone valid reassessment cannot be made. Consequently the assessing officers made such reassessments without disclosing the fact of audit objections. The RTI act was used by some to ferret out the real reason in some cases. Now the government in the DTC has proposed a provision that would enable reassessment on the basis of audit objection alone. Could we as a civilized democracy place a premium on the incompetency of public servants even if they are constitutional authorities?
The CAG is an auditor nomenclatured as Comptroller& Auditor General. The service that assists him is classified as the Indian Accounts and Audit Service. It is amazing that many of the CAGs who held the job were IAS officers and not officers of the Audit and Accounts Service. Income tax and other tax service officers are trained on recruitment in law and accounts. They are also assisted in discharge of their functions by appropriately qualified professionals who represent the interests of the tax payers. The functions of the assessing authorities are quasi judicial in nature. Objections raised by the audit arm often are of purely legal nature. However, they do not seem to have been trained in tax law to enable them to raise such objections in matters of tax law not withstanding the fact that they are authorized to raise such objections. The fact that a very large number of such objections are being rejected by appellate authorities, support such a view.
Elected governments are advised in legal matters by the advocate general and the solicitor general. Various ministries when they encounter legal problems refer the matter to either the law department or the advocate general. If tax auditors representing the CAG are really qualified in law as well as accounts, so many of the objections raised would not have been found unsustainable by courts. If they are not so qualified, appropriate correction may be required. The opinion that the CAG is very ably assisted by a qualified team does not stand well established in so far as tax law objections are concerned.
The merit of any institution is judged by the extent it effectuates the object. If the institution is dysfunctional the object cannot be achieved. A functional democracy requires functional institutions.
(The writer is a Panjim based tax consultant & advocate)
9th May 2013
Confrontation With ChinaApril 15, 2013 was a black day for India, as the media reported a Chinese incursion in Aksai Chin, ten kilometers across what we recognize as the LAC, towards the Indian post of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in the Depsang valley. This is beyond Leh, Kargil and Ladhak and to its north east. This has now aroused Indians, who were caught napping! A sleeping nation was confronted with the news which conjured up thoughts of 1962. When will our citizens know the whole truth? In this area, the LAC has never been demarcated on the ground. The Mc Mohan Line was drawn out only on paper on the map. It was never demarcated on the ground or accepted by China. The British left India with this and many more messy situations for us to deal with. It is learnt that a joint survey by India and China was undertaken in the mid nineteen sixties. But this was given up when the Chinese delegation disagreed with the Indian view of demarcation and unilaterally withdrew from the joint survey team. No effort was made by the Indian government to resume this task of joint survey and no further progress was made in this direction thereafter. Actually our Army has only patrolled up to the Chip Chap R and Hot Springs in the foothills of the Altai Range. The British never stationed any troops in those highly inhospitable heights. But, once in a blue moon in some years sent out a strong patrol to show the flag and return to base in good weather. They bossed over the Chinese and the Tibetans, as those countries were then weak and fragmented. Today the situation is quite different.
In the early 20th century, China was a sleeping giant, and the Chinese government was weak. After the Second World War, they progressed under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung who brought in a strict communist regime. The dragon awoke from its slumber and began flexing its muscles. They took active part in the Korean war in the 1950s and later in the Vietnam war in the 1960s, where their Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) sharpened its teeth. Then they started the border war with North Vietnam, who gave them a bloody nose. The Vietnamese Army fiercely counter attacked and threw out the Chinese invaders from the mountainous posts that they had captured earlier in a surprise attack. This taught the PLA a lesson and the Chinese realized they needed a strong, well trained and equipped army, a blue water navy, a large air force and an adequate network of roads and bases to back up their aggressive policies against its neighbours. They pumped in millions of dollars to modernize the PLA’S ancient equipment. They had no political opposition like us, to question every policy decision and every purchase deal made. Initially Russia supplied them with arms. The use of the firing squad for traitors was not uncommon. Basically, they went all out to strengthen their R & D organisation and meet their needs out of indigenous production. They sold these planes, guns and missiles to newly independent small countries willing to buy. Their prices were cheap and loyalties of these small countries were rewarded. Pakistan was one of the beneficiaries and even today it possesses large quantities of Chinese weapon systems. Their scientists were encouraged and rewarded for their successes. Unlike in India, where the scientific community are chary to try out new theories and come up with new innovations for fear of failure and consequent ridicule and charges of inefficiency levelled at them by a screaming political opposition. So, there is no level ground for comparison of a democracy and a totalitarian communist regime. There are no bandhs, public fasts or slogan shouting crowds in China. Opposition to government is simply not tolerated.
The Chinese hordes are very physically fit. The communist system starts every day with compulsory PT for all citizens, old and young. Here in Goa, the chief minister is talking of the potbellied policemen who are unfit to chase and arrest a thief. The Chinese Army is fit as a fiddle and their soldiers are basically from the peasant stock who can subsist on ‘chapattis and hard variety vegetables such as potato/carrot or dal.’ They are acclimatized to the bitter cold temperatures and blizzards of the high mountains. Their base camps, depots and ammunition dumps are located in the forward areas of the high Tibetan plateau. This makes their induction into the conflict zone much easier. Their build up and deployment will be thrice as fast as our troops, as their road, rail and airstrips have been built accordingly and inter connected to provide alternate routes of induction should one be blocked. The civilian population in Tibet is no longer hostile to the Chinese. Soldiers are encouraged to marry local Tibetan girls and settle there, for which they are given land and other assistance. They will not have a hostile population to contend with during their induction and build-up stage, thus leaving their soldiers fresh when they arrive in the conflict zone.
China has border problems with almost all its neighbors. The Russian border is now quiet after the dispute in the Usuri River Basin was sorted out by the Russians who were initially caught off guard. It is learnt that the Russians deployed seventy five regiments of 160 mm Howitzer guns of the Bofors variety and ordered a twenty round salvo of rapid gun fire on the disputed area. The smoke, dust and smell of gunpowder did not lift for a whole day. When it cleared up, it was found that the huge crater formed, had become the new alignment along which the Usuri river now flows. The Russo-Chinese dispute seems to have been settled after that. China also has significant border disputes with North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and Bhutan along the Chumbi Valley and in the north. Their claim to the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea has brought tough postures from Vietnam, Japan and Russia. North Korea has occupied 80% of the islands in the Tumen and Yalu Rivers, thus denying the Chinese access to the sea which they consider vital for their trade and commerce. Has our central government carried out any coordination with these countries with similar problems? We should explore all avenues which will help our foreign policy. I appreciate that AK Anthony is an honest man with a smiling face! But that is just not enough to win a war with the Great Yellow Dragon ~ China.
I pity the COAS, General Bikram Singh who is saddled with this grave problem and has to face the music. At this time my thoughts go back to the hero of the 1971 war with Pakistan and the liberator of Bangladesh. Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw had the guts to tell Indira Gandhi the true state of preparedness of the armed forces and asked for four months time and money to buy certain important equipment like floating bridges, spares for repair and overhaul of aircraft, ships, tanks, guns and other necessary warlike stores from the shelf in the world market. She simply told Jagjiwan Ram, YB Chavan and Sardar Swaran Singh, “Give the chief what he needs to conduct a successful war.” That is how a war is conducted and results will be there. Have we not learnt from our past experiences? Brave soldiers alone cannot win the modern war of today. But give them the weapons, ammunition and backing of the nation and they will give you the desired results. No miracles happen! We have to work hard, sincerely and unitedly to win. Victories are earned with blood, sweat and the best weapon systems and soldiers. There are no short cuts to victory. Our national leaders should do some hard thinking and some quick actions are required to make these black clouds of war show at least a thin silver lining. We are very lucky indeed that the PLA and Indian Army have agreed to pull back and disengage for the present. Our MOD (Ministry of Defence) has always been guilty of preparing for the last war. Let’s set our house in order at least now. For far too long we have been sweeping the dirt under the carpet on the pretext of national security. Now the day of reckoning has arrived! Good luck India! Jai Hind!
8th May 2013
Let birds fly …I was in Nagpur last week. I was told of an illegal bird market and so I went on Sunday morning. I saw hundreds of small cages with budgerigars and pigeons in them. Of course the team of People for Animals, Nagpur took the birds and went to the police station. The police helped them ~ even though they had been mute spectators of this market every week. But as usual the forest department people, who are illiterate and wicked most of the time, refused to take the birds as they were foreign ~ obviously they had never heard of the Gujarat judgment which says that no birds can be sold ~ especially not love birds or budgerigars.
But what broke my heart was this: I was looking at the bird cages and I saw a budgie crouching in the corner. She looked unwell so I put my hand in and took her out. She had no legs at all; obviously the result of inbreeding and over-breeding. As I held her in my palm, she flew off to a tree in front. This brave little creature could not sit on the branch because she had no legs so she clung with her mouth to a leaf till her grasp weakened and she fell down on the road. We picked her up and she tried weakly to fly again but she went back into a special cage and I do not think she lasted the day.
Do not buy love birds and budgerigars. Both originally came from Australia and Africa but they are now grown by dealers in Kolkata and sent illegally through the railways, in packed cardboard boxes with little holes for breathing, all over India. Many of them die from the lack of oxygen.
Lovebirds are social and affectionate small parrots. They live, in nature, in small flocks and are monogamous. They pair for life, sitting only with their mates. They do not live very long when separated: like humans they pine. But the dealers and you the buyer encourage this terrible hardship on them. In nature, they live upto 15 years. In captivity, one to two at the most. They are bred by dealers for their colours. If blue is the fashion or the order placed, then all the babies that are not blue are killed by the breeder.
Many lovebirds are captured and brought into India by smuggling them through the Kolkata port. Captured wild lovebirds don’t last very long and they die mourning the loss of a mate or a flock.
Many people keep lovebirds without understanding their needs. Single-sex birds are bought because they look pretty together. They can’t mate, don’t interact and die of loneliness. Determining a lovebird’s sex is difficult. After it is a year old it may show behavioural signs ~ females rip papers and males vomit. But this is mainly hearsay and is not a reliable indicator. The only sure method is DNA testing. No seller knows anything at all and he will say anything to get the bird off his hands.
Birds kept individually or brought up hand-fed require frequent attention to stay happy, and if the owner has limited time to spend daily with a single lovebird, it wilts. Since they are social birds, they require companionship the entire day. No one who keeps a bird spends any time at all with it except to call its name while passing by and occasionally poke a finger into its cage.
Lovebirds require large cages of more than a metre each way per bird. Their beaks are made of keratin, which grows continuously. Chewing and destroying wood toys and perches helps to keep beaks trim. They need cuttlefish bones to help provide beak-trimming, calcium and other necessary minerals. They require plenty of toys, such as branches, swings, tunnels, boxes and safe things to chew on and play with. Lack of toys, keeping the birdcage covered too many hours, and lack of companionship or social stimulation leads to boredom, stress and psychological or behavioural problems (nervousness, aggression, feather-plucking, screaming, depression, illness). Lovebirds are intelligent, enjoy baths and like to sun themselves daily. No buyer knows this or cares. He simply wants a noisy pretty bird to keep his children amused ~ till it dies.
Lovebirds are vegetarian. A fresh mix of various seeds, grains and nuts: millets, canary seeds, peeled oats, safflower, barley, amaranth, uncooked rice, linseed , hempseed , buckwheat, wholegrain bread, cereals, fruits, lentils, weeds, pulses and vegetables, peas, beans, cauliflower leaves, cabbage leaves, chicory, collard greens, dandelion leaves, endives, mustard leaves, wild grass, sprouted beans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds – are to be given everyday. How many owners do this? They eat flowers: carnations, chives, herbs’ blossoms, hibiscus, honeysuckle, impatiens, lilac, nasturtiums, pansies, passion flowers, roses, sunflowers. Many lovebirds die of malnutrition.
So many of the lovebirds are children of different species. They are sterile hybrids ~ and the breeder deliberately does this so that no more are born to the buyer. People are so strange that when their bird dies, they immediately want to buy more ~ because otherwise the cage will go waste - and the breeder needs that to happen.
Everything I have said so far applies to the budgerigar, also commonly sold in illegal pet shops and bazaars. It is a small, long-tailed, seed eating parrot which is captured from Australia and brought here where it is grown in the slums of Kolkata. Budgerigars are naturally green and yellow with black, markings on the nape, back, and wings, but have been bred in captivity to become blue, white, yellow, grey ~ more than 32 different shades. They are the most mutilated birds and, like dogs, those that are not exactly as the breeder wants them to be are killed immediately. You will see them with crests and mixes of strange colours ~ all of this is unnatural. So many have now eyes that are bigger than normal and squashed faces and tiny legs. Budgerigars in their natural habitat in Australia are noticeably smaller than those that have been bred. Since these are bred to be bigger and fatter with puffier head feathers, their legs can hardly hold them up and the eyes and beak are sometimes completely obscured by the feathers. In the wild they live 20 years. In captivity, under the best conditions of diet and exercise, two to four years. They do not produce children without a nest box.
These birds will be eaten by kites and other large predators if you release them. So they are condemned to a life in captivity. It is your desire for a live toy that keeps breeders in business.
Please don’t buy lovebirds or budgies, and inform me about any markets that they are sold in.
To join the animal welfare movement contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org
3rd May 2013
Death Traps On Goa’s Roads
Freddy DiasGoa's roads continue to be major death traps, if the number of motor accidents every day in the State is taken into account. Official statistics indicate that hundreds of people lose their lives, and over a thousand are seriously injured and maimed on our roads, every year. The horrifying lack of traffic management has earned Goa the distinction of being India's leader in traffic related deaths ~ it has the most motor accidents per capita recorded in the country.
To venture out in Goa means confronting utter chaos, beginning with cratered roads, arrogant policemen and transport department officials, death-defying one-upmanship by car, bus, truck and even trailer drivers, the acrobatics of two and three-wheelers, and the peripatetic bovine population ~ all in the backdrop of poisonous fumes from environmentally unfriendly motor exhaust.
Many of Goa's roads are in the most deplorable condition ~ perennially ridden with potholes owing to faulty construction and poor maintenance. As a result, they have become the bugbear for both, motorists as well as the pedestrians. In fact, existing roads are falling to rack and ruin, while the new ones are ill-planned.
The road length increases every year. But the development of the roads, especially its widening, has not kept pace with increase in the number of vehicles in the State.
The roads in Goa were sufficiently wide during the Portuguese regime, when traffic conditions were different. But now, even after five decades of liberation, we have not progressed effectively enough and, as a result, our roads are seen choked up all the time. Traffic volume has grown a hundredfold, but our road widths have remained almost the same.
There has been a frightening spurt in the number of vehicles registered in Goa, in the last few decades. Goa has even surpassed some Asian and American nations in terms of its vehicle figures, with one vehicle for every two persons in the State. In fact, while the number of vehicles in Iraq is 50 per 100 ~ equal to Goa ~ the State has outdone Jordan (47/100), Bolivia (46/100), Peru (41/100), Philippines (31/100) and others. Even the India average is 12/100.
While Goa's human population has registered a modest decennial growth of 15.21 per cent, its vehicle figures have grown exponentially. The total vehicle population of the State, comprising two and three-wheelers, cars, jeeps, taxis, buses, trucks and other public goods carriers, is over eight lakhs.
Approximately 68 per cent of the vehicles are non-public transport, two-wheelers ~ mostly owned by salaried middle class people ~ followed by private cars, jeeps and SUVs which account for 19 per cent, while public transport vehicles account for the remaining 13 per cent of the total number of vehicles in the State. This, however, does not take into consideration the large number of vehicles coming into the State every day from various other parts of the country.
The problem is compounded by the rapid urbanization of the countryside, particularly in the State's coastal belt, and the consequent transformation of residential areas into commercial hubs, without vital supporting infrastructure like parking space and an adequate road network.
With a minimum of 3000 new vehicles being added to Goa's burgeoning vehicle population every month, there are around six lakh vehicles on our roads each day. The tremendous influx of tourist vehicles from other states, besides various kinds of goods carriers coming into the State from other parts of the country, add to the congestion on Goa's already overburdened narrow roads.
Screaming motorists giving vent to uncontrollable outbursts of road rage during traffic jams is a common sight everywhere in the State. The fate of pedestrians in the melee can well be imagined. If they are not mowed down by recklessly driven motor vehicles, they are prone to fall into an uncovered gutter or a storm water drainage channel. Observers point out that traffic police, transport officials and civic authorities are mostly inactive in the face of the deteriorating traffic situation in the State.
A recent study done by the present government, following a survey on around 30 different routes all over the State, indicated that the roads are increasingly getting congested because they are narrow, compounded by a faulty traffic system and lack of reliable and efficient public transport facilities, particularly a bus transport system.
Some of the reasons cited for an increase in demand for bus transport, which is considered the most fuel-efficient road-based mode of public transport are the increase in per capita income, business activity and rapid urbanization. Overcrowding and inadequacy of the existing public bus fleet has been one of the main factors for persons in the higher income groups opting for personalized modes of transportation like cars and two-wheelers, which has led to the increase in traffic congestion across the State.
Despite a large number of people being killed in road accidents every year, even the simplest of measures like banning private vehicles in certain areas during peak traffic hours, diverting interstate traffic and regulating the number of new cars and two-wheelers have not been undertaken.
As incomes rise, a large number of faster, sleeker and bigger models of cars are powering their way on to already inadequate roads, leading to alarming speed differentials. The most common cause of road accidents is over speeding and reckless driving. Particularly, bank-financed commercial vehicles like pick-ups, buses, trucks, tankers et al, are seen speeding recklessly over narrow and crowded roads. Another common cause of accidents is stray cattle roosting on the roads, especially during nights. The worst cause of motor accidents however, is drunk driving, due to which many precious lives are lost on the roads each year.
It is high time the various government agencies like the Public Works Department (PWD), the Transport Department and the Police co-ordinate their efforts in improving traffic management in the State and save valuable lives. Not only traffic policemen, but all professional drivers should be subject to compulsory tests on driving ability, road etiquette and traffic safety awareness, at regular intervals.
It is necessary the government welcomes NGOs and even individuals to come forward with suggestions on how to improve the general public traffic sense, so that motorists as well as people in general observe basic safety rules and regulations.
2nd May 2013
When Panic Kills
Maneka GandhiI am reading the book Zoobiquity. One chapter is about the similarity of heart attacks in people and animals. The author, a doctor and head of internal medicine in a teaching hospital, opines that whenever a shocking event like an earthquake or tsunami or even a war close by takes place, people get far more heart attacks than normal. Chest pains, arrhythmias and deaths rise. For instance when the Iraqi forces sent Scud missiles into Tel Aviv and civilians faced the possibility of being blown up at random, more Israelis died from heart attacks than from the missiles. Fear and dread is a terrible weapon. I know because I have lived with it most of my life and working with sick and dying animals can literally weaken and break your heart. During the 9/11 attacks, heart attacks reached an all time high across America. Doctors reveal that people watching sports matches often keel over from anxiety.
But humans are not the only ones that die of fright. Bird trappers see that when they throw a net over forest birds and then move to put them into capture boxes, many have died on the spot, terrified by the sudden capture. The heart and the mind are inexorably linked. People die of emotional stress, even though their hearts and arteries are clean and healthy. The only thing that doctors find in such cases is a light bulb shaped bulge at the bottom of the heart, now known as takotsubo ~ direct physical evidence that severe stress (fear, grief, shock, intense negative emotion) can alter the shape of the heart and the way it pumps blood. It is now called the “broken heart syndrome”. Not just humans, even animals can suffer from it.
Watch an elephant that lies down by its dead friend or child and dies a few days later. That is takotsubo. Stress hormones called catecholamines gush into the blood stream, poisoning muscles, causing clots, and causing the heart to beat wildly and dangerously.
Many years ago, a very prominent wildlife scientist in South India was arrested when the tigers that he had captured in order to radio-collar, died immediately on capture. There was no explanation except that the animal had simply died of stress. In zoos, deer die when they are being relocated from one enclosure to another. One deer is darted, the others start running around and then heart attacks kill them. Ignorant zoo officers then try to put the blame on stray dogs.
The catechocholamines in a chased animal rise so high that they overwhelm the skeletal and cardiac muscles and cause them to break down. The skeletal muscles break down and their proteins enter the bloodstream and shut down the kidneys. A sign common to both humans and animals is rust coloured urine. Sports that call for extreme performances often result in this: Horses, dogs and other animals that are used for races simply collapse and die.
Animals that are chased die from the stress of being hunted by predators, hunters, zoologists and wildlife “experts”. Some crumple to the ground and die immediately. Some linger for weeks, listless and depressed till they die. Giraffes that are caught to be relocated die quickly. Deer deaths can go up to 50%. Even wild horses, that are chased and caught, die from what scientists call ‘capture myopathy’. Post-capture deaths are 10% ~ an extremely high figure. In birds it is more.
Human beings are so frightened of being captured and restrained that the number of sudden cardiac deaths in new prisoners is very high. Similarly, nothing is more frightening for an animal than to be captured or restrained. It means they are going to be killed. The brain and heart goes into overload immediately. Even lobsters caught in pots die of fright. Their meat is discoloured and rots faster. Leopards that are caught in Uttarakhand almost never survive their capture. They die by the time they are taken into the zoo ~ often it is thought to be that the anesthetic has been badly calculated, but see the thrashing and head butting of a leopard against its cage and you will see an animal that is scared enough to kill itself rather than be killed. Bears and wolves react the same way.
Physical restraint on an animal on a medical table invites terror. Dogs with muzzles overheat and die very quickly ~ more from fright than the weather.
Noise has the same effect. During the terrible senseless noise and firecrackers of Diwali, thousands of birds and animals die in their nest and trees, not hit by missiles but scared by the terrible sudden noises. Every city loses 20% of its birds during October-November and it can never make them up which is why you don’t see birds around any more. Dogs crouched in the open sewers die. Dogs under the beds of their owner’s homes shiver and die. Rabbits and sheep die. Rabbits die suddenly when rock music is put on. Sheep and goats die from the noise of a helicopter above them. It has often been thought that music is good for animals but concerts held near zoos have often resulted in several sudden deaths. Dalmatian dogs are especially vulnerable to sudden noise-related death. The takotsubo malfunction shows up in all their hearts.
Baby animals that are frightened into hiding ~ from baby fish, fawns, alligators, rats to birds ~ have their heart rate decreased out of fear. But in the tension of hiding, a sudden loud noise and the heart literally bursts. Doctors say this is what happens in most crib deaths of human infants as well.
Flocks of small birds often react like this to predatory birds. A raptor swoops down and snatches a bird. The birds near the victim often keel over with fright. Some faint. Others die.
The terror of an animal needs to be understood so that captured or confined animals can survive. We need to understand that the connection between the heart and brain is the same in the human as it is in the tiniest of all creatures.
1st May 2013
Comunidade Land Takeover?
Brig Ian da CostaVery few gauncars of the comunidade have obtained land from the organisation that his ancestors have worked and sacrificed for, for centuries, and that now he is working for with great fervour. Many government officials posted from Delhi have got comunidade land, built houses on it and later sold it at huge profits to outsiders. In the 1950s, Acharya Vinobha Bhave started the Bhoodan movement to redistribute the land in India and urged landlords in northern, western and central India with huge holdings, to voluntarily donate quantities in excess of 50 acres per family to the pool, from where it was distributed to the landless poor to enable them to live a respectable life. But in Goa, most bhatcars had very small holdings and the comunidade land which was owned by the community (comunidade) was grabbed and given away to the tiller, wrongly following this example.
No account was kept of the original small holdings of the bhatcars. Even those with paltry holdings of about ten acres and less per family were deprived of their ancestral holdings. By doing this, the government did not solve any problem; rather it made tenants overnight into bhatcars, while the bhatcars were rendered landless, thus reversing the situation. The bhatcars and those of these family households had relocated to places like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Belgaum Ahmedabad and some other parts of India with some venturing to the far off Arabian Gulf, Africa, Canada and the UK to seek employment as none could be obtained in their native Goa. The heirs of the bhatcars obtained a good education in their adopted land and became professionally well qualified as doctors, engineers, architects, chartered accountants et al with many gaining both fortune and fame. The tenants’ heirs were not inclined to till the fields and so they lay fallow and were left uncultivated, thus lowering the agricultural produce of Goa.
We are now at the mercy of neighboring states for our daily requirements of vegetables, milk, grains and other essential foods.
It is with great consternation, distress, sadness and shame that the call by Mauvin Godinho comes, to regularize the encroachments on comunidade lands once and for all. He is suggesting that illegal and criminal acts of forcibly occupying someone else’s land by using muscle power, exploiting the mafia, petty officials and the political nexus between them, should actually be rewarded!
The administrators of the north, central and south zones have not paid any heed to the requirements or many complaints of the various comunidade committees to demolish encroachments on their land. That such a preposterous suggestion has been made by a person who claims to have Goa and Goans in his heart and mind at all times, is unpardonable. If he is a gauncar of some comunidade, then the other gauncars should take note of this suggestion and move a resolution to terminate the rights of this gauncar due to his act of treason.
It is like the Trojan horse, which had helped to destroy Troy! Such political leaders should be taken care of by the public during the next elections and consigned to the dustbin of history. The Basilica de Bom Jesus where the sacred remains of our patron, St Francis Xavier lies in Old Goa belongs to all Goans, but can I sell it to some north Indian or tourist whose pockets are jingling? This is what he is attempting to do. I had a good opinion of Mauvin Godinho when he was a Youth Congress leader and for the part he played when he took part in the Konkani language and the opinion poll agitations. But power corrupts and he is no exception to this rule. When a person places himself above the requirements of the people, the system starts to fail. We all remember the case of the scam where the acquired land at Dabolim which was returned to its owner when there was a dire need for additional land for parking of vehicles at the airport. Was he not the one person mainly responsible for this shady deal? Unless the members of the various comunidades of Goa unite as one to fight such tendencies, we will not be able to protect the little that is left of our land.
Much of our land has been acquired by the government ostensibly for several of its departments at a ridiculously low price per square metre, that will just be able to pay for a packet of potato chips or a cup of coffee. Isn’t it shocking? Besides much of this land lies unutilized even as they demand more.
The chief minister and the deputy chief minister who looks after the revenue portfolio are requested to do a reality check and restore such unused land to the relevant comunidade.
If this is not done soon, there will be a massive movement to bare all facts by coming on the streets. Legal action may not yield quick results as the courts habitually slowly progress with cases when it comes to such contentious public matters.
The writing is on the wall. If the government chooses to ignore it and to continue riding rough shod over the comunidade to destroy the institution, they will have to pay for it dearly. It is our duty and absolute right to rise as one and give a befitting reply to the actions of all the governments that have been responsible for destroying this great organization.
Admittedly there have been some irregularities committed by various men who are part of this movement, and an enquiry should be made into these irregularities. None of those who are indicted should go scot free without suitable punishment. But which government department, corporate house, private cooperative organization and even the defence services is completely free of corruption? This fact must not be used as an excuse to kill the already dying comunidade organization. Instead it must be used as an opportunity to turn a new leaf and revive the `grand old sick man of Goa’ and to relive the past glory. Goa and Goans will be eternally thankful to Manohar Parrikar and his team which has shown some signs of having a right kind of long term vision of communal harmony where Hindus, Christians, Muslims, migrants and others can live in peace as brothers and sisters as they did once upon a time before.
If they should choose to ignore our humble and prayerful call for help, they will be responsible for bungling and committing a grave injustice which will lead to untold misery for all. This is not a threat, but a gentle request for help. We have to also thank Mauvin Godinho for giving us a wake-up call. If not for his call, we would have continued to slumber. Do not allow injustice to continue. All we need is a firm resolution to cooperate and do the right things to weed out corruption, set new standards, make people accountable and go about our work in a professional manner. Let Goa become the harbinger of a more honest, contented and peaceful place for fair living in our country! Viva Goa! Jai Hind!
(The writer is president of the Saligao Comunidade)