UNITED: Activists demanding justice for Rama and Auturo (above) gathered at the Panjim Police Headquarters
By Avertino Miranda
As Goa plunged into darkness last Sunday night due to shifting of high voltage electric tower lines at Kadamba Plateau to favour a builder, members of the activist-community were determined to fight back and defend two activists who were allegedly assaulted. This was allegedly followed by political pressure not to act on the police complaint despite demands from various social organisations for arrests of the accused.
Sunday’s power cuts in Goa triggered a major power crisis with some social activists coming under attack from the powerful and politically connected, following attempts to settle old scores over dropping of St Andre from the Greater Panaji Planning & Development Authority (GPPDA). The Kadamba Plateau, where a huge electricity tower was being moved out of a builder’s property, saw scenes of action as crowds gathered to protest the blackout.
It all started when Goa’s Electricity Department announced the one-day — June 3, 2018 — power cuts for the Tiswadi and Bardez talukas and neighbouring villages from 9 am to 6 pm. However, the power cuts spilled over past midnight, forcing activists, citizens and politicians to come out and question the Electricity Department officials and Power Minister Pandurang Madkaikar for the failure to restore power within the announced time-frame.
When the power supply was not restored at 7 pm, some activists and the members of the public decided to check out the cause of the delay at the Pilar electric sub-station. When the power supply failed to restore by 9.30 pm, Curca-based activist Rama Kankonkar decided to call Power Minister Pandurang Madkaikar and ask him about the delay in restoring electricity. Madkaikar promptly answered Kankonkar’s call and assured him that the power will be restored in another 30 minutes. However, the power blackout lasted far beyond past mid-night. This was when Kankonkar decided to call Madkaikar again, but he did not get any response.
Meanwhile, Kankonkar called the local MLA of St. Andre, Francisco Silveira, requesting him to come to Madkaikar’s house. On reaching Madkaikar’s house they found no response and therefore moved back to Pilar power sub-station where they were told by the engineers that the delay was due to moving of cables. The engineers were non-committal as to when the power supply would be restored. Later around 1 am the activists and politicians gathered at Pilar decided to go to Kadamba Plateau where the work of shifting the high voltage power lines was in progress.
By then Kankonkar was joined by Olencio Simoes, General Secretary of Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott and Santa Cruz-based activist and Arturo D’ Souza, Convenor, Goenkar’s Against PDAs, who say they were witness to the attack.
Kankonkar alleged that under cover of darkness Bacal cornered and pushed him to a dark area and started hitting him repeatedly with karate-style blows, while Silveira’s nephew, Alan Silveira, held his hand, resulting in serious and painful damage to his neck vertebrae for which he was treated at the Goa Medical College. He has been advised by doctors to use a cervical collar to support his neck vertebrae due to damage.
Auturo D’Souza says he tried to save Kankonkar by protecting him from the alleged blows of Bacal. D’Souza also got hit and his spectacles broke. Kankonkar said he restrained himself from counter attacking Bacal as he saw one of Bacal’s associates video-filming the incident from a cellphone.
D’Souza said the police were slow in filing the First Information Report (FIR) and acting against the culprits, despite informing them that they faced death threats even after the alleged assault. “The police were filing a non-cognizable offence. It’s only after we insisted, that the Old Goa police decided to file a cognisable one. Most of the charges are lighter ones as Section 504, 323, 427 and 506 were filed of the Indian Penal Code. It was only at 7.30 am on Monday, when PSI AV Kavlekar, attached to the Old Goa Police station, arrived on duty that we were told to give a handwritten complaint. The filing of the FIR was registered after over five hours of waiting.“
Kankonkar added, “We had to remain awake the entire night till morning although I was suffering from the pain of the blows showered on me.”
However, Ajit Bacal, Sarpanch of Azzocim and Mandur Vilage Panchyat, denied the allegations of assault against Kankonkar and D’Souza. “Rama was provoking people to go to Madkaikar’s house to protest and stone his house,” Bacal alleged and claimed that he had no previous enmity nor did he hold any grudge against the two activists over the dropping of St Andre from the PDA. “It’s just an excuse. He is doing it for publicity,” Bacal claimed.
It may be recalled that 10 villages, including St. Andre and St. Cruz, were dropped from the GPPDA, angering the builders lobby and politicians who were planning high rise buildings and other construction projects.
Bacal admitted that is a black belt martial arts expert but denied that he had used his marshal arts as a weapon to hit out at the two activists. “I have been using martial arts for my physical fitness and have never used it against any person. Had I to use martial arts, then he would have probably hit the ground very badly,” Bacal retorted.
Meanwhile, Bacal claimed that he was granted anticipatory bail from a Sessions court and therefore the cops could not arrest him.
Insisting that the truth must prevail in the Rama and Arturo alleged assault case, Colva-based activist Judith Almeida, said that after Fr Bismarque’s case the people are watching the police investigations. Activists have demanded stern and exemplary action by the law enforcing agency, but the police have been slow in their act.
“This is goondaraj with political patronage – a desperate attempt to silence anti-PDA activists,” said Viriato Fernandes, Co-Convenor of Goencho Avaz, describing the situation as a delegation of activists tried to meet the Director General of Police at Panjim, to demand stern action against the alleged attackers.
Simoes described the attack on activists as pre-planned because Kankonkar and other locals were questioning the St Andre politicians on several local issues which irked certain vested interests. For this reason, Simoes said the alleged attackers of activists have filed a counter “false” complaint against the activists. “This attack on activists is a slap on every Goan. Today Goa is still green because of activists, otherwise environmentally destructive mega projects including Meta Strips, SEZs would have spread all over and destroyed Goa. We, activists are working selflessly and fighting to save Goa and are even willing to die for this cause,” Simoes asserted. “No amount of fear, threats and attacks are going to deter us from fighting against the corrupt politicians who are out to destroy Goa,” he added.
As Goa’s real estate prices zoom upwards due to surge of capital flow and increased housing demand from new unregulated settlers, powerful land sharks and builders are lobbying with politicians and the government to allow land conversion and concretisation of villages to cash-on this increased demand. Locals are struggling to keep these mega projects out of their villages to maintain their unique and fast disappearing heritage. Besides lack of power and related infrastructure, Goa also lacks infrastructure in sewage, water supply, garbage collection, recycling, open play spaces and gardens, hygienic markets, recreational centres, roads, public transport, footpaths for pedestrians, and other essentials for its existing population.