BMC POCKET GARDEN AT JUHU: Popular haunt. Call it an open air gym or workout stations for local residents to catch up with much needed exercise in life
And that too a plateau which shelters invaluable water springs in a wilderness of beauty…
By Tara Narayan
SEVENTY years later we still don’t understand what kind of development and progress we should subscribe to for our own wellbeing as a country! Why must issues of environment and ecology take a back seat when it comes to any kind of development and progress? Take Goa for example. It’s funny how late in the day so many well-meaning niz Goenkars wake up to the charms of Mopa Plateau which is on its way to becoming the second airport for Goa!
On Monday, March 6, 2018, over a 100 odd anti-Mopa activists of the ‘Goans for Dabolim Only’ gathered at Junta House in Panaji to meet Deputy Conservator of Forests Anil Kumar, to plead with him to stop the slaughter of trees which is going on in full swing out at the plateau which is being cleared for the new airport to be constructed — a much-flaunted second airport which will presumably pave the way to more industrial development and urban progress — which is the only kind we know in this country!
In more enlightened countries the model has become obsolete but then we in India don’t know how to take short cuts for real development and progress — the kind our politicians go abroad at taxpayers’ money to see and envy in America, Germany, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries or even Singapore for that matter. Singapore develops and progresses on a surplus budget, while India is bogged down perennially by bankrupt banks and governments!
It was a sad scene to see in uptown Panaji outside Panaji’s most historical public building, Junta House, on 18th June Road, where all lifts never work at any given time. Can’t help thinking that sussegad Goans should have paid heed to what was happening under their own noses some 12 years ago when the idea of another airport for Goa was in the air and which is now in the pipeline full speed ahead, given the exigencies of the present Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s BJP government (the chief minister currently being on sick leave in the USA).
Many Mopa airport activists say the matter is still in court and ask how they can cut the trees at Mopa plateau, thousands of them, 21,700 trees by one estimate according to Rose D’mello, one ardent activist who would like to see Goa retain its green zones for good reasons.
In any case, rogue governments are known to take the law into its own hands, regardless of whether the court has passed all the green signals for another airport and its acquisition of land and compensation to people (who may be barely aware of how their humble lives are going to change once the airport comes up).
From the sound of it it’s Mopa airport full swing ahead to give tourism and a lot of other development and progress a boost in hitherto peaceful Pernem taluka. Another airport will open up tourism and business opportunities in southern Maharashtra, it’s widely perceived. Reportedly, the greenfield airport which was mooted to come up in Sindhudurg less than a 100 km away from the Mopa plateau has been shelved now that Mopa airport has got the green signal!
Also, perennially bankrupt governments — be they at Central level or State level — need lots of money to fix the next elections to stay in power forever! In poor and rich India it is so easy to control aam aadmi and khaas aadmi with a gamut of “freebies”. This is yet another story many thinking folk have got tired of listening to…of how in poor little rich India (a poor country full of rich politicians and 2% obscenely rich khaas aadmi, who’ve mastered the art of stealing big time from national banks, before escaping to royal lifestyles abroad), there is very little conscience left for any good beyond the I-me-and mine syndrome.
Some say vendetta politics is here to stay, the worst kind, which thrives on promoting inequalities and growing impoverishment of a people in urban India or in the hinterland. For all the talk of swaach Bharat campaigns Bharatdesh continues to wallow in indifferent moral values and even commonsense. Which educated, intelligent, conscientious government would encourage another airport for small state Goa on a Mopa plateau, rich with thousands of trees protecting reservoirs of water?
I mean can they even imagine what will happen to Goa’s present climate once yet another large chunk of green cover is butchered for a concrete airport to come up with compounded speed now? You’d think they would look for plain barren ground level land to develop into an airport! But the government of Goa can only eye a lush plateau with thousands of trees (nourishing something like 47 water springs and respective seasonal and perennials streams of pure water) as ideal land for butchering and hammering into shape for what is ironically dubbed a “greenfield airport.”
How long will it take a tropical tourism paradise like Goa to become another urban nightmare when mercury rises and precious water has to be severely rationed? For life to become an ever increasing frustrating hell for aam aadmi – so that death is preferable to living fruitlessly day in and day out? This is the BJP government of India which is worse than erstwhile Congress of India. In a failing democracy the only choice before voters is between bad and evil or two evils!
It’s the aam aadmi who pays the price, while upper crust folk continue to wallow in their ill-gotten gains courtesy political graft. We no longer even need proof of how corrupt successive Indian governments at Central and State levels have been and are — which includes bureaucracy and smaller fry down the ladder of so called government services. Much of it is tumbling out of dusty cupboards lately in a mind-boggling series of accusations, counter-accusations, cover-ups or justifications! Corruption, is as good as legal tender in India.
If our politicians had any vision at all, they would see how their dream scenarios of developmental exploitation turn into nightmares for the common people, who just want to live in reasonable, happy comfort, without struggling for roti, kapda, makan or sadak, bijli and some decency in public life?
Do we really want to set the stage for future urban nightmares of the Western world, for example, Cape Town in South Africa? Or take Chennai in south India? When people elsewhere have no more air, earth or water left will Goa welcome them as refugees of environmental or political disaster? Just because Maharashtra or Karnataka, next-door neighbours, haven’t had the commons sense to safeguard their Western Ghats natural water sources in cooling oxygen rich jungles?
It’s actually an old story. When the government and the people of a country don’t grant respect to the environment and how it is safeguarded in the process of development and progress, there is nothing to reap except misery. It is so easy to con small humble farmers who live off the land courtesy the “free” bountiful resources of primary life. But what can they do when the political powers-that-be constantly seek naturally rich lands to rob for a song and exploit for mega monetary real estate development or mining gains for the few — at the expense of the many who remain backward, illiterate, uneducated, poor by the kind of choices various governments on the make give them?
We know that most politicians ensconced in their offices of power do not have the interests of the common people at heart, they have only their own interests at heart and most seek to live cushy lifestyles in the pockets of our extraordinary khaas aadmi who’ve mastered the art of stealing from the present to destroy the future of aam aadmi. The scenario is repeated ad nauseum. Chase people away from their homes in “undeveloped” villages to the nearest urban towns and cities or abroad to eke out a living or may be strike it lucky.
Also, the question arises, who will step into the footwear of an ailing Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and will it make any difference to the future of Goa for the better? Or is Goa doomed to be victimized by a retarded model of development and progress? And once Mopa comes up how will a grossly overstrained infrastructure cope with ensuring paani, bijli and sadak for its new urban residents living in slums to earn their dal-roti? Presumably, they won’t be the people using the new Mopa Airport to fly in and out of Goa for holidays!
MANY of the anti-Mopa Airport activists like the Rainbow Warriors say that the Mopa plateau which is being cleared for the airport should rightly be perceived by all Goans urban and rural as part of the Goa’s Western Ghats, which are already recognized as one of the world’s eight hottest hotspots for biodiversity. The lush green plateau which offers shelter and sustenance to a primary wilderness of trees (an estimated 21,700 trees at least) apart from other flora and fauna, is also a gigantic water reservoir with something like 47 water springs.
With Goa’s “green lungs” going rapidly there will be irreversible consequences on climatic conditions and whatever little agriculture there is in Pernem taluka. Micro changes create macro changes and it has been predicted that “In the next 10 years, earth will become 4 degrees hotter than it is now.” (Quoting d Venkatesh, IFS, District Forest Officer, Dindigul) Funny, how on one hand foresters and citizens are advising plant more trees to fight global warming while our politicians are advising more mega projects like more dams, more river linkages, more bridges, more expressways, more malls, more plazas of concrete, more towering buildings… making urban life in an overburdened civic infrastructure a nightmare today, not to mention contribute towards our ill-health majorly!
WHAT ‘GOANS FOR DABOLIM ALONE’ (GFDO) SAYS…
FOR over four years now the Goa government has doggedly refused to refute facts and figures put out by reports, or provide answers to questions raised by GFDO. The entire Mopa Airport project is built on a nebulous foundation and transgressed a number of policies, laws, procedures, processes and thrown up inherent contradictions. The airport is unviable, economically unfeasible and unnecessary and will heavily drain Goa’s limited community resources without providing requisite returns to the community.
Amongst other allegations there is the charge that the initial PPP joint venture has now changed into a joint venture on lease model. In the final Commissionaire Agreement the government leased the lad at Mopa for the purpose of aviation and tourism for an annual lease. The decision to allot the land for 40 years with option for another 30 years extension was taken by the Steering Committee and in the final agreement this was arbitrarily changed to an allotment for 40 years with an option for 20 years extension.
Amman & Whitney were supposed to draw up the Master Plan and provide consultancy for a period of one year after construction of the airport. But it is developer GMR which now has a free hand and the costs estimated too have changed from `3,000 to `1,500 crore. The committee added cost of an expressway and Phase I cost increased to `1,800 crore. Finally, with no reason, the cost escalated by `100 crore to a total of `1,900 crore.
GFDO activists say no traffic impact study has been conducted as required by aviation policy. Also, in a one-sided Concessionaire Agreement the entire liability lies upon the state of Goa and in case of termination of agreement, the entire loan taken is to be re-paid by the state. The Goa government has no equity stake in the project and has no indication of revenue the airport will generate.
In the GMR/Axis Bank loan agreement the cost of constructing the originally proposed 6-lane elevated flyover/expressway is shown at `65 crore. Central PWD will be constructing the expressway. As per the Concessionaire Agreement no revenue from the city side facilities will accrue to the government nor will users benefit, although GMR will have earning potential of at least `12,000 crore through land given by the state for city side facilities for an investment of `47 crore.
Altogether the allegation is that Mopa Airport project is a bank fraud and there are conflicts of interest all around between KPMG, AAI, GMR and EIA (technical consultants appointed for evaluating the GMR Master Plan and they are also appointed independent engineers). Convenor Eremito Rebelo of GFDO says look closely into the details and it is clear that Mopa Airport is not for the wellbeing of the state of Goa or Goans, “Goa may see a repetition of today’s situation wherein the Goa government is being compelled to pay `292 crore of hard earned taxpayers money to Reliance Infra.”
With all these allegations it sounds like Mopa Airport will eventually collapse under the weight of its own inherent contradictions and Goa will have a white elephant contributing to the warming of its climate and other environmental degradations – in the name of development and progress. The quiet charms of a Goa as a tropical paradise of balmy beaches and a slow restful pace of life will be washed away for good!
NOC FOR CUTTING THOUSANDS OF TREES!
ACCORDING to a report which appeared way back on August 19, 2016, in a local Goa newspaper, the GMR Goa Airport International Ltd acquired an NOC to cut down more than just a few thousands of trees! In what seems to be a slow massacre of trees over time, the built up area of Mopa Airport is 2,271 acres and in phased manner trees will be cleared in villages from Ximeche Advan to Varconda and Cansarvoruem and the areas marked will be barricaded areas in the villages.
According to villager Swapnesh Sherleker the Forest Department NOC given is a blanket clearance of trees in about six villages, although no survey numbers have been given. The GMR may continue to clear trees as and when Mopa Airport builds up. Trees have been earmarked to the tune of 2,755 in Mopa village, 1,470 in Chandel, 2,496 in Uguem, 2,686 in Cansarvornem, 2,438 in Amberem and a whopping 9,858 trees in Varconda!
If these are accurate figures it is a shocking clearance of what seems to be primary agricultural and forest land on which the villagers depend for their livelihood however so humble it may be! The Mopa plateau, incidentally, is inhabited by villagers of the Normand tribe (Dhanagar).
Rainbow Warriors, the NGO supporting cases challenging land acquisition and grant of environmental clearance for Mega Airport with the NGT and the Supreme Court, say such fights are unequal for a people who barely know their legal rights of rehabilitation or what is adequate compensation. Past experience has shown us how a government of slick urban professionals can easily exploit native tribal communities and dispossess them of their natural rights of occupation for a pittance. The Mopa Airport project has become contentious because here there are two familiar tragedies in the making – first the human and second the environmental, both are, of course intertwined.