DON’T BE FOOLED BY NITIN!

CLEAN ENERGY: Worldwide the effort is to replaced highly polluting thermal power plants run on coal by solar and wind energy

By Rajan Narayan

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when there appears to be no scope for independent media in Modi raj. For a Saturday following the week when Nitin Gadkari seems to be shaken by the vehement opposition to converting Goa into a coal corridor. For a Saturday following the week when the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court gave an ultimatum to the Transport Department on the installation of digital meters in private taxis. For a Saturday following the week when there was a mystery over the future of the former Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza. For a Saturday following the week when mining remained at a standstill due to the lack of agreement over the rates to be paid to the trucks. For a Saturday following the first anniversary of demonetisation.

ANTI-MEDIA

AND a few stray thoughts on the hostility towards media critical of the government. Among the most vociferous of the national English television channels which campaigned against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the Parliamentary elections was CNN 18 helmed by Rajdeep Sardesai, a Goenkar who is the son of veteran former cricketer Dilip Sardesai. Rajdeep was the first victim of the Modi government when it came to power. The promoter of CNN 18 had taken a large loan from Mukesh Ambani. The Reliance chief who is very close to Modi converted the loan into equity ending up owning CNN 18. Not only Rajdeep but his wife Sagarika Ghose and the promoter Rajiv Behl were promptly sacked and replaced by chamchas.

The next wicket to fall or in the process of falling is NDTV. Recently, Sreenivasan Jain publicly complained that his report on the economic fortunes of Jai Shah the son of Amit Shah, was abruptly removed from the website. This prompted the former star anchor of NDTV, Barkha Dutt, also to speak up. Barkha revealed that her interview with former Finance Minister Chidambarum, who attacked demonetisation and GST, was slashed at the instruction of the owner Pronoy Roy. Barkha also complained that several stories of hers were blocked by the owners under pressure from the Modi government.

In fact she was removed from the post of daily anchor as punishment for questioning the management. Barkha acknowledge that stories are killed and blocked in other media organisations also. But unlike the NDTV they don’t boast of being defenders of the freedom of the press. There have been several raids on NDTV by the Enforcement Directorate allegedly in connection with money laundering. There are persistent rumours that NDTV has also been bought over by Reliance.

Hindustan Times had got a high profile editor from Time Magazine. The high profile editor had started an online feature called ‘Hate Line’ to focus on all the acts of hate from lynching of those allegedly storing and consuming beef, to ‘Love Jihad’ cases, to attacks on Dalits in Gujarat. The owner of the Hindustan Times, Shobana Bhartia, was summoned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and after the meeting the editor was sacked. The ‘Hate Line’ has been discontinued. It has now been revealed that the Hindustan Times guru had set up an offshore company in a tax heaven which showed a loss of `7 crore.

So far the only national newspaper which has continued to be critical of the BJP is the Indian Express which was the first to expose the conspiracy to destroy South Goa. The axe may fall on them at any time.

It is not only large newspapers which have faced the wrath of the BJP government. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) has apparently been instructed not to give government ads to media organisations which are hostile. This affects small publications as they are largely dependent on government advertisements. I recall the editor of a Konkani monthly telling me that he was asked to vacate the government quarters allotted to him after he gave a speech critical of the Modi government. The PIB has even been told to seek the permission of Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani before they interact with journalists.

Even cartoonists have not been spared. A cartoonist who expressed his anger over the insensitivity of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami towards a family which committed suicide due to harassment by a money lender has been arrested. Similarly, a case has been filed against a reputed former BBC reporter for allegedly blackmailing a senior BJP leader. The senior reporter had a video tape of a sex scam involving the BJP leader. Nobody seems to be safe from the vindictiveness of the BJP.

‘NO-COAL’ WINNING

AND a few stray thoughts on the opposition to the huge increase in the coal handling capacity having shaken both Parrikar and Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. Last week a number of Gram Sabhas in South Goa passed resolutions against the transport of coal or the movement of railway wagons carrying coal through their villages. There has been stiff opposition from Chandor and other Panchayats to the doubling of tracks between Vasco or rather MPT and Karnataka which is intended to increase the coal transport capacity.

Similarly, there has been protest against the acquisition of land for a new dedicated highway for the transport of devil’s dust by road. There are several cases pending before the NGT tribunal in Pune against the increase in the coal handling capacity of the MPT and the proposal for dredging the rivers to create fresh corridors of coal through waterways.

In another of his U-turns Manohar Parrikar has been incredibly claiming that pollution levels in Vasco are less than that in Delhi. But then why doesn’t he work harder to see that Goa doesn’t turn into another Delhi? It is well known that one of the reasons why Parrikar quit the prestigious Defence Ministry and returned to Goa was because the pollution in Delhi aggravated his respiratory problems. The pollution in Delhi is among the worst in the world and in fact at the time of writing an health emergency had been declared and all schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) have been closed. Parrikar, to be fair, admits that there is pollution in Vasco though he insists it is within reasonable limits. The argument of both Parrikar and Gadkari is that Goa is also an indirect beneficiary of the import of coal as it gets power from the thermal generation stations of the Centre. It may be recalled that one of the thermal generation stations blew up causing the death of over 50 workers.

In the face of the protests in various parts of South Goa, Gadkari has claimed that if Goans are opposed to the transportation and development of a coal hub, the projects could be dropped and shifted to Vijaydurg in Maharashtra or Karwar. I understand that the change of mind is primarily due to objections raised by Union Minister for Defence Nirmala Sitharaman who was told by Navy personnel stationed at Hansa that the coal pollution was affecting them and their children. Though Gadkari claimed during his press conference in Goa that the trucks carrying coal were covered with tarpaulin, his colleague, Minister of Railways and Coal Piyush Goel, has admitted that transportation of coal in open trucks or wagons causes severe pollution. Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Dr. Harsh Vardhan, is also in favour of closed wagons for transport of polluting materials.

Though Gadkari has claimed that no projects would be imposed in Goa we have to continue the moment to stop coal. We cannot be sure that Goa will not be blackened unless the licenses issued to the MPT to increase the capacity for import of coal from the present 5 million tonnes to 50 million tonnes is scrapped. We also have to block the doubling of the tracks as this will increase the quantity of coal transported through beautiful South Goa.

Similarly, the new highway which is meant for the transportation of coal and which passes through Chandor, which has several heritage homes, should also be stopped. We cannot take the word of Nitin Gadkari who has made more U-turns than even Manohar Parrikar. Significantly, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has not given any assurance of either scrapping the increase in the coal handing capacity or shifting the coal hub outside the state.

LOOTING DAYS OVER?

AND a few stray thoughts on the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court serving an ultimatum on the Transport Department regarding the installation of digital meters in taxis. The courts have repeatedly directed the Transport Minister to not only install meters but also GPS systems. It has become important to have GPS systems in the wake of the increasing number of incidents of molestation of women and even murder in various parts of the country. In fairness it must be admitted that there have been no cases of Goan taxi drivers misbehaving with women. But this does not mean Goan taxi drivers are saints. On the contrary they have earned the reputation of being bandits all over the country.

Goan taxi drivers who have powerful political patrons have refused to install digital meters and GPS systems. They have been insisting on their rights to loot the passenger. Fares are levied at the whim of the driver and you can be charged as much as `500 from the Kadamba bus stop to Miramar and up to a thousand to go to Dona Paula. The taxi fare from the airport to Dona Paula is a minimum of `1200. Goa is the only state in the country where the passenger has to pay the return fare for the taxi driver to go back to his stand. The taxi drivers have divided Goa into north and south. Taxis attached to coastal villages like Calangute, Baga or Morjim will not permit taxis from South Goa to pick up passengers. They will not even let you pick up your guests who are staying in a hotel in your private car. You can drop your guest but if they want to come back with you they have to hire a taxi attached to a hotel. The taxi fare is the most expensive item in the budget of the tourist and can exceed even the cost of accommodation or food.

Increasingly Goans are demanding that Ola, Uber, and other companies should be permitted to operate in Goa. Goans who visit Bombay, Bengaluru or the NCR frequently keep posting about how much cheaper it is to call an Ola or Uber cab compared to the rates in Goa. One of the reasons why Goa has the largest number of cars and two wheelers is that nobody can afford taxis or even auto rickshaws and motorcycle pilots.

The public transport service which includes the Kadamba and private buses are overcrowded and in a very shabby state. In any case those who want to enjoy the night life in Goa are totally dependent on private taxis because there are no buses after 8 pm from the cities and 7 pm from the beaches. Transport Minister Sudhin Dhavalikar assured the court that digital meters would be installed in taxis within a month’s time. Let us hope that at least this time the government keeps its word. In the meanwhile, at least for the benefit of senior citizens and the sick and ailing who need to go to hospitals, the transport department should clear the app-based Goa taxi startup ‘Taxi Go’.

CATHOLIC UNREST

AND a few stray thoughts on the strange case of Francis D’Souza. The former deputy chief minister was very upset when his claim to the chief minister’s post was ignored when Parrikar became defence minister. After the 2017 election Francis D’Souza lost the prestigious portfolios of Town & Country Planning and Revenue and had to be satisfied with the Urban Development Department. It was even suggested to Francis D’Souza that he should resign from his seat as MLA and take up the offer to be governor of one of the North Eastern states. But Francis insisted that he should be made governor of Maharashtra or even considered for the post of vice president.

It is clear that the Mapusa Babush has realised that there is no place for Catholics in the BJP even if he is willing to call himself a Hindu Catholic. He has even complained that the budget for the Urban Development Department, which is the only major portfolio given to him, has been slashed. The Mapusa Babush has not been attending his office at the Secretariat. In fact he has been missing from Goa for the last two months. However he has refuted the suggestion that he cannot carry on his duties as minister because of his health. It is Parrikar who has been making repeated visits to Mapusa to attend to the problems to party workers and voters of Francis. The bells are tolling and it should be a matter of time before Francis quits the BJP.

But Francis is not the only Catholic BJP MLAs who is unhappy. Michael Lobo, the Calangute MLA who played a major role in getting Goa Forward to support Parrikar for the Chief Minister’s post, is also very unhappy. He was expecting to be rewarded with a cabinet post. Instead he was only made the deputy speaker which does not carry any power. Now there is an attempt to strip him of the chairmanship of the NGPDA. If this goes on, all the Catholic MLAs will revolt against the BJP coalition government.

14 YEARS

AND a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. November is the anniversary of Goan Observer. We have managed to survive for 14 years, thanks to the support of our well-wishers. But the future looks bleak because of the hostility of the BJP government and the fear of our supporters that they may be victimised if they are seen to be backing us. We are very obliged to all our advertisers who have stood by us and supported the journalism of courage that we practise. I would personally like to thank all our readers, advertisers, contributors, distributors and above all our small but extremely dedicated staff for helping us to keep the voice of dissent alive in Goa.

 

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