APPROVED: The technical committee of the Environmental Ministry has approved the demand of South West Port Limited, a Jindal company, for an increase in its coal handling capacity
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Jindals were allowed to increase their coal import capacity. For a Saturday following the week when clashes broke out between the Dalits and upper castes in Maharashtra. For a Saturday following the week when it was not a very Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year for the tourism industry. For a Saturday following the week when there was continued confusion about GST.
AND a few stray thoughts on the Jindal’s South West Port Limited (SWPL) being permitted by the expert appraisal committee (ESE) of the Union Ministry of Environment to increase their coal import coal capacity at the MPT. SWPL, which is a Jindal company, has been permitted to increase its coal loading and import facility to 15 million tonnes from the present five million tonnes. Going by the attitude of the Union Environmental Ministry it is likely to also consent to the proposal of the Adanis to a substantial increase in the coal import capacity at MPT. It is estimated that with the approval of the proposals of the Jindals and the Adanis the volume of imports of coal through the Marmugoa could go up to as much as 60 million tonnes.
This comes at a time when the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) has issued a show cause notice to the Jindals for handling ten times the authorised amount of coal in the last decade. The MPT data reveals that over the last decade SWPL handled 47 million tonnes of coal between 2012-13 and November 2017 as against the permissible amount of 31 million tonnes. The quantity of coal handled by SWPL was 16 million tonnes in excess of the authorised capacity.
SWPL has kept defying the directives of the GSPCB and has now been rewarded by the Centre. The GPSCB had directed the SWPL to reduce coal handling by 25% immediately at his board meeting held on February 2016. Instead of lowering of the quantity of coal imported, the Jindals steeply increased the quantity in defiance of GSPCB. In the year 2016-17 the Jindals handled over 10 million tonnes of ore which was double the authorised capacity. In June – July 2017 when it was ordered to reduce coal handled, it transported four million tonnes which was much higher than the ceiling imposed by the board.
Manohar Parrikar had declared on the floor of the assembly that no increase in the coal handling capacity would be permitted. Even in the face of the consent given by the Environmental Ministry to the demand of the Jindals for a huge increase in the coal handling capacity, Parrikar is attempting to play it down.
PARRIKAR insists that he stands for his commitment to freeze the coal handling capacity. The chief minister claims that the reported decision of the environmental ministry to permit the Jindals to expand their coal handling capacity is only a recommendation by the expert appraisal committee and that it was not the final authority. But going by Parrikar’s history of U turns, his claim that he will resist the increase in the coal handling capacity does not carry much conviction.
Even if Parrikar sincerely wants to limit the coal handling capacity, he may not be able to do so as the Modi government is obsessed with rapidly promoting the growth of Industry for which coal is essential as a raw material not only for power generation but for the steel industry. Just as in the case of the Mhadei river water sharing dispute, where Parrikar probably had no choice but to write the letter to the Karnataka BJP president, he may not have a choice in this matter also.
It has historically been Parrikar’s stand that Goans have no right to object to the import of coal through the MPT. The logic of Parrikar is that Goa does not have any independent source of power generation. Goa gets all its power supply of more than 500 megawatts from the national grid. Of this over 90% of the power supply that Goa gets is from thermal power stations which generate power by burning coal.
Parrikar’s argument is that if the people of Goa object to the import of coal they should also not accept the power from other sources. Parrikar has been constantly harping on the fact that the import and transport of coal to the MPT is not the only source of pollution and that vehicles contribute more to pollution in Goa than coal.
To set an example Parrikar has been posing riding a cycle. But given the state of Goan roads and the speedy Gonsalves’ on the road, people who switch to cycles will be more vulnerable to accidents than even two wheeler drivers. Goa could switch to wind and solar energy but Parrikar does not seem to be interested.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that on Facebook there is a very slick presentation doing the rounds on why Goa should not object to coal as it enjoys the benefits of power from thermal power plants. Though some conditions have been stipulated by the environmental ministry, the additional coal will continue to be transported in wagons covered by tarpaulins which do not prevent pollution.
2018 CASTE WARS
AND a few stray thoughts on the war that has broken out between the Dalits and the other castes, more specially perhaps the Brahmins in Maharashtra. This is an action replay of what happened in Karnataka over the decision of the state government to celebrate the 400th birth centenary of Tippu Sultan. The celebration was to commemorate the resistance that Tippu Sultan put up to the British army. But a section of hard-core Hindutva fanatics in Karnataka strongly objected claiming Tippu was a cruel Muslim leader who fought and won battles against Shivaji.
IN THE case of the clashes that broke out in Pune on Tuesday, and then spread to the rest of Maharashtra, the provocation was the Bhima Koregaon battle in Pune District. This was ironically a battle between the army of the Peshwas, the Brahmin descendents of Shivaji and the British, which took place as far back as in 1880. The battle was won by the British even though they were outnumbered by the Maratha forces.
It may sound absurd that the Dalits should insist on celebrating the victory of the British colonialists against and Indian nationalist force, but the fact remains that the British regiment which defeated Peshwa Bajirao’s forces, which eventually led to the end of Maratha rule, was dominated by the Mahar soldiers who are Dalits. The British acknowledged the bravery of the Dalit soldiers and even the father of the constitution, BR Ambedkar, visited a spot close to the Bhima river to pay respects to Dalit soldiers who had lost their lives in the battle.
As 2018 marks the 200th or the double century of the battle, over 10 lakh Dalits turned up at the memorial to mark the occasion. This led to clashes between right wing Hindutva fanatics and the Dalits in which a 28-year-old Dalit man was killed. This led to an escalation in the clashes to the whole of Maharashtra. Indeed on Tuesday Mumbai was virtually paralysed due to violence unleashed by Dalits to protest against the death of one of their volunteers and the arrest of several Dalit leaders.
THE ground reality is that the Dalits, despite reservations, continue to be treated unfairly both by the government and the upper castes. Caste continues to be the curse of India and even highly educated Dalits face discrimination. In the villages the situation is much worse with Dalits still being treated as untouchables.
The mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism has not helped them. Even as recently as last week several thousands of Dalits converted to Hinduism.
Even the Indian army was caste based during British colonial rule. Which is why there was a Mahar regiment which consisted entire of Dalits in sharp contrast to a Maratha regiment which consisted of the upper caste descendents of Shivaji.
What the Dalits are demanding is not just economic and social equality, but respect. Ironically it is the upper castes like the Marathas in Maharashtra and the Patels in Gujarat’s who are now demanding reservations.
Even in Goa, Dalits are not allowed to enter the sanctum of temples. Even after Liberation, Dalit converts to Christianity and the tribals had to stand outside the church and could not sit in the church.
The suicide of the Dalit research scholar Rohit Vemula at the Osmania University in Hyderabad has aggravated the tensions between the Dalits and the upper castes. Every political party is fishing in these troubled waters as Dalits are a major vote bank.
AND a few stray thoughts on Christmas being less the merry for the tourism industry in Goa. Historically, the period between the 24th of December and new year’s day was considered the peak of the peak of the tourism season. But this year there were not many tourists who came to Goa for Christmas. The tourism industry has admitted that 5-star hotels had an average occupancy of only 70%. Instead of increasing their prices as they have been doing all this years, 5-star hotels could not achieve full occupancy despite offering discounts.
However, while the 5-star hotels had problems filling their rooms the cheaper hotels were houseful. This is attributed to the fact that while hotels with the tariff of less than `7,500 had to pay only 18% GST, 5-star hotels have to pay as much as 28%. Moreover restaurants in 2 and 3 star hotels where the tariffs were less than 7,500 had to pay only 5% for food. VAT on alcohol however continues to be as high as 22%.
New Year was better for the hospitality industry but not as profitable as in earlier years. As for the shacks, considered the main attraction in Goa, they were affected by the super moon and the high tides which coincided with New Years. Though there was not much damage due to the supermoon on New Years Eve, tourist were cautious because of their earlier experience when high waves swept away beach beds and shacks due to a cyclone.
The bigger crisis facing the tourism industry is that Goa has stopped attracting high income tourists and foreign tourists.
GARBAGE & GST
THE number of charter tourists has gone down sharply because of the inability of the government to deal with the garbage problem. Charter tourists have also been affected by the all-round increases of prices due to GST. Even high-spending domestic tourists who have been coming to Goa in very large numbers in December are looking at cheaper destinations.
The primary deterrent to spending the festive season in Goa is the air fares. There was a time when the air fares were standard and did not change with the season. For quite some time however the cost of air tickets has depended on supply and demand. So much so every festive season, and indeed, even when there is a long weekend, there is a huge demand for air tickets to and from Goa. Since pricing depends on the law of supply and demand, when the demand goes up, the price shoots up.
This Christmas and New Year, tourists were caught up in a funny situation. The cost of arriving at Goa was not too unreasonable. But the return ticket back to their home towns zoomed. So much so that travelling out of Goa on the first or the second was twice or thrice as expensive as normal. Also, many tourists anxious to return to work were stranded at the Goa airport for hours because of the fog in Delhi which delayed flights all over the country.
AND a last stray thought on the continued confusion over GST. Particularly the GST on eating out. In the wake of strong objections both from the hotel industry and those who eat out the GST on food in independent restaurants both Ac and non ac was brought down to 18% to 5%. But unfortunately for the aam aadmi and for the hotel industry, the finance ministry does not permit restaurants to set off their expenses against the GST they pay. This is because of the belief that restaurants while benefiting from the reduction in GST are not passing on the benefits on input credit to the consumers.
Restaurants on the other hand claim that their costs have gone up despite the reduction in the GST and therefore they cannot reduce prices. The worst offenders are the multinational chains like KFC and McDonalds or even coffee chains like Starbucks. None of them have reduced their prices and in fact increased the prices. The finance ministry is planning to take action against multinationals who have not passed on the benefits of the reduction in GST to consumers.