IDENTITY: Goans fighting together across caste, community and religion, protected the state’s unique green identity by rejecting merger with Maharashtra
We Must Stop Coal!
In the past we have stopped Goa’s merger with Maharashtra. We have stopped the diabolical RP 2011. We have succeeded in getting the notorious SEZ policy scrapped. The latest challenged before Goans is to stop the conspiracy to convert beautiful green Goa into a corridor for dirty black coal for the benefit of the Adanis and the Jindals. We must work together and take action to ensure we preserve Goa’s future
By Rajan Narayan
IN 1967, the people of Goa got together, cutting across caste, community and religion to say NO to merger with Maharashtra. The people of Goa decided decisively that they wanted to retain Goa as a distinct entity, that they wanted to protect the unique identity of Goa. They did so even though the ruling party at that time, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) was openly in favour of merger of Goa with Maharashtra.
Indeed, the MGP-led Goa Government and the Naik-led Maharashtra government had passed resolutions in the assembly demanding merger of Goa with Maharashtra. But Goans, otherwise considered susegad and lazy, came out in very large numbers to vote against merger in the Opinion Poll in 1967.
In the years running up to 1987, when the official language bill to make Konkani the official language of the state was passed, Goans again fought those who wanted to give equal status to Marathi. Hindus and Catholics came together for the sake of Konkani mai. They fought together to make our mai bhash our raj
bhash. The Konkani Porjecho Awaz (KPA) was led by the leading writer Pundalik Naik. But leading Catholics like Tomazinho Cardozo and all the tiatrists, including veterans like M Boyer and Vaz, took part actively to give Konkani her due place as the lady of the house. Not in the angan or the courtyard to which she had been pushed by the Marathivadis. We have just celebrated tulsi vivah with Konkani mai firmly in control of the house with Marathi given due respect in the angan.
Goans have always been proud of being residents of green Goa. They have always been proud of their lush paddy fields and the fact that Goa has the highest forest cover in the country. In how many cities in the country can you see so many trees as in Goa? How many people have the good fortune of walking or riding or driving to office feasting their eyes on greenery? How many people have the luxury of having a banana tree or a coconut tree outside the window of their office? Goans are proud of their villages and their traditional way of life, of evenings in their balcaos exchange information with their neighbours. And most of all Goans are proud of their communal harmony.
In no other state in the country will we find Hindus, Catholics, Muslims and members of other religions living in total harmony. When I first came to Goa in 1983 I was pleasantly surprised to see not only Catholics, but even Hindus and Muslims, eating choris pav. In no other city or state or club have I seen ordinary citizens enjoying their pork hamburgers so much. In no other state in the country has there been no question of any restriction on what the residents can eat. Goa is the only BJP-ruled state in the country which has not banned the consumption of beef. This is not because the RSS and the Sangh Parivar do not want to ban the distribution and consumption of beef in Goa, but because the political arithmetic in the state does not permit it, as beef is the staple food of the minority Christian community who represent 24% of the population of the state. It is only incidental that it also benefits that growing Muslim minority community.
FIGHTING RP 2011
WHEN attempts were made by the then Town and Country Planning Minister Babush Monserrate to sell Goa to the land sharks with his RP 2011, Goans came together again to preserve their ecology and to prevent Goa from being converted into a concrete jungle.
I remember how the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) started. It began with a small meeting of activists at the Don Bosco School at which Dr Oscar Rebello was unanimously elected as the chairman of the GBA. As with all popular movements in Goa there were members of all communities — Hindus, Catholics and Muslims — were involved. A team of very dedicated architects under the leadership of Dean D’Cruz went from village to village explaining what would happen to Goa if RP 2011 was adopted. The GBA forced the then Chief Minister Digambar Kamat to scrap the 2011 regional plan and set up a committee under Goan-origin architect Charles Correa and former national Town and Country Planner Edgar Ribeiro to formulate a participative bottom-upwards regional plan. A regional plan which reflected the ground realities in keeping with article 72 and 73 of the Constitution which stipulated that all planning should be done at the level of the village Panchayat or the Municipality. It is unfortunate that RP 2021, the labour of love which was notified by Digambar Kamat just before the 2012 election, has still not been implemented by Manohar Parrikar and the BJP.
THE SEZ BATTLE
THERE was yet another conspiracy to grab the lands of Goans under the pretence of creating jobs for them. The Central government had come up with a plan for setting up special economic zones (SEZs) on the lines of China to give a boost to development and make in India for export to the world. Several concessions including tax holidays were offered to these special SEZs. In Goa the corrupt industrial developed corporation used it as an excuse to gift a way large parts of lands to land sharks. The land was given not to industrialists but to building companies for housing and not for industry. It was very clear that the highly concessional land given would not create any jobs for Goans. The only jobs that would be created would be for construction labour and watchmen which Goans were not interested in anyway. This led to the formation of the anti-SEZ movement. A movement which succeeded in getting the then Chief Minister Digambar Kamat to cancel the allotments made to the land sharks and scrap the SEZ policy. Unfortunately due to the pro-industry policy of the BJP, the land that was given to the land sharks with the collusion of successive chief ministers has still not been returned. Indeed the BJP coalition government has filed cases against the then IDC Chairman Babu Kavlekar who is now the leader of the Opposition.
Even before the scrapping of the RP 2011 and the cancellation of the allotment of land under SEZ, the
people of Ponda had gotten together to reject a highly polluting industrial unit promoted by Thapar along with American giant DuPont. This would have caused as big a disaster as Union Carbide did when the plant exploded in Bhopal. The people of Goa came together under the leadership of Dr Dattaram Desai to successfully keep DuPont out of Goa.
Even earlier, in the ‘70s, the then chief minister of Goa, the late Shashikala Kakodkar, had forced the Zuari Group to change their raw material from arsenic to naphtha under threat of being shut down.
The fact that Goans can and will fight whatever is harmful for them has been established. They tolerated mining for a long time because of the lack of awareness about the ill effects of not just mining, but the transportation. Particularly the transportation of ore in open trucks through populated cities which not only caused pollution but killed a number of children due to accidents caused by rash driving. People tolerated mining possibly because till the emergence of tourism there were no other job opportunities in Goa. But even when mining was at its peak it was not Goans who drove the trucks. The trucks were owned by Goans and driven by migrants. The mining industry came to a virtual halt when the Supreme Court, on the advice of the Shah commission, suspended mining in Goa. It has been made clear that mining can resume only under strict supervision with proper ecological safeguards.
THE import of coal, which is the new conspiracy hatched by Union Minister for Transport Nitin Gadkari with Manohar Parrikar to make Goa not only a coal hub, but a corridor for transport of devil’s dust, is far more dangerous to Goa than the import and the transport of ore. In the case of ore at least it was of some benefit to Goans. Till the ‘80s the mining industry was the main employer in Goa. Moreover it was the state of Goa which got revenues in the form of royalty and taxes from the export of Goa. It was an activity by Goan for Goans unlike the import of coal which does not bring any benefit to Goa.
The import of coal has been promoted aggressively by the non-Goan chairman of the MPT to make up for the loss of revenue due to the suspension of mining. The MPT has been the only port in the country which has been willing to be converted into a hub for the dirtiest cargo in the country. This is because coal dust is far more injurious to health than ore or any other substance. The quantity of coal dust imported through MPT which was less than half a million tonnes has grown to five million tonne. This is expected to increase to 50 million tonnes within the next three years thanks to the Adanis who have been given permission by Australia to exploit a huge coal mine in the country. The other importers of coal are the Jindals and the Vedanta group.
The coal that is imported to Goa is not for the benefitsof Goans. It is for the steel plants of the Jindals group in Karnataka. It is for thermal generation plants in Karnataka and Maharashtra. It is not just the import of coal which is a cause for worry. What is horrifying is the conversion of the whole of South Goa and may be even North Goa into a corridor for the transport of coal. Union Minister Piyush Goel has admitted that coal transported in open wagons causes pollution. A train with 50 wagons travels from MPT every 30 minutes during the day, passing through the whole of South Goa. At night coal is transported in poorly covered trucks which causes even more damage. By virtue of the fact that the MPT does not have adequate storage space for the coal, imported coal storage dumps are being created by Goan industrialists like the Fomento Group, which will add to the pollution.
The increase in the ore handling capacity of MPT from 5 million tonnes to 50 million tonnes has been done without the permission of the Goan people. It is been done without consulting them. It has been done by misrepresenting facts to the Ministry of Environment & Forest and the Goa Pollution Board. It
is been done chori chori chupke chupke by Nitin Gadkari after Karnataka and Maharashtra rejected the import of coal. We are shocked that Manohar Parrikar, who admits that coal is polluting, has been a party to the conversion of Goa into a coal corridor for the benefit of the industrialist friends of Narendra Modi.
We have to say no coal. We have to stop the increase in the coal handling capacity of the MPT. We have to stop the trucks carrying the coal secretly at night. We have to stop the devil’s dust trains carrying coal to Karnataka through the villages of Goa. Already many Panchayats have passed resolutions saying no to coal. The tourism industry should wake up to the threat of coal pollution. The Goa Medical Association headed by Dr Medha Salkar should wake up to the threat of coal pollution. If the coal handling capacity is increased to 50 million tonnes, the people of South Goa, including the residents of Vasco, will all have to apply for passports to Portugal. Far better we rally and fight the menace together. We can stop the coal we have to stop the coal. We have done it in the past we can do it again in the present. Together we can overcome.