BETRAYED: The families of the 45 arrested Sonshi villagers have been gathering outside Valpoi police station every day since their arrest, demanding their freedom. The children of those who are in custody marched to Valpoi Police Station on Sunday protesting the arrest and the detention of the bread earners, which is keeping them hungry. The villagers had pinned hopes on their legislator Vishwajit Rane, who recently quit the Congress and joined the ruling BJP, but are now cynical about political apathy and double-speak

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the saffron menace loomed large over Goa. For a Saturday following the week when despite the ban on daaru within 500 metres of the highway, Goa witnessed a tsunami of fatal road accidents. For a Saturday following the week when just as Vijay Mallya was arrested by Scotland Yard, came the news that the Kingfisher Villa in Goa has a new owner. For a Saturday following the week when mining dadagiri resumed even as the government supported the mining industry’s demand for an increase in extraction capacity. For a Saturday following the week when I got a cease and desist order on behalf of Archana Bhobe who presumably thinks I am one of the North-Eastern slaves.

Saffron Menace

AND few stray thoughts on the saffron eclipse which threatened to shut the secular sun from Goa. Last week Acharya Radhakrishna Manori, senior leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) express confidence that  the Sangh Parivar would be able to enforce a total ban on cow slaughter within the next two years. The VHP insisted that it did not need the help of the government and its goons could achieve the task as they have done in UP and Rajasthan. In UP even Muslims suspected to have stored beef in their homes have been burnt alive. In Alwar in Rajasthan which is also a BJP ruled state, a dairy farmer was brutally murdered when he was transporting a cow he had bought from a fair back to his village.

The fears that a nationwide ban on the slaughter of cattle may be part of the hidden agenda of the Sangh Parivar, including the Modi government, was confirmed by the call of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, for a ban on cow slaughter all over the country. The slaughter of cows is being extended by the fanatic gau rakshaks to buffalos and other cattle also. Not just slaughter but even the consumption of beef is banned in the BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. As veteran film star Jaya Bhaduri Bachchan protested in the Rajya Sabha, the Modi government seems to be more concerned about saving cows than saving women. Meanwhile the Gujarat government has amended the law to confer life imprisonment on any one who kills a cow.

In Goa, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) has extended support to the proposal to ban slaughter of all cows. It may be recalled that the Sangh Parivar had not only objected but assaulted members of the minority Muslim community offering kurbani during Bakri Eid. The Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar remained silent on the threat by the VHP to impose the ban on slaughter of cattle in Goa. The only MLA to protest against the VHP threat is Vijai Sardessai, who is also the TCP minister in the Parrikar cabinet. Vijai has gone to the extent of claiming that  the Government can ban the VHP from entering Goa just as it externed Pramod Muthalik of the Ram Sena. Vijai seems to forget that he is only a minister in the cabinet and not the chief minister. The government is represented by the chief minister and all cabinet ministers hold their kodels at his pleasure. If there is a choice between throwing out the VHP or Vijai, Parrikar is more likely to throw Vijai out.

Tsunami of accidents

AND a few stray thought on the tsunami of accidents that Goa has witnessed in the last few days. Despite the Supreme Court ban on serving of daaru within 500 metres of the highway, as many as five people died in a single accident at Corlim on the highway. Following that, there have been several accidents involving two wheelers. Interestingly in Goa the two wheeler accidents involved expensive two wheelers and not just the humble Scooty. Of course since young Goans believe that their heads are very strong and can survive impact against another bike or a tree or a pavement at 80 km per hour without any damage, in every one of the fatal injuries involving two wheelers, neither the driver nor the pillion-rider were wearing helmets. It is not known if those involved in fatal road accidents since the beginning of the new financial year were drunk or had bought and consumed daaru within 500 metres of national highways.

According to an NGO, in 2016 there were 4.5 lakh accidents in the country of which 1.5 lakh were fatal. This works out to 410 deaths and 1300 injuries every day. National highways and state express ways account for two-thirds of deaths due to accidents. The conclusion of a traffic expert, Dr Dinesh Mohan, who has been analysing road safety issues for two decades at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, is that it is the infrastructure rather than the driver, whether he is sober or drunk, that is responsible for accidents.

I tend to agree with Dr Mohan that there is no point blaming drivers, not because Indian drivers are very good, but because most of them are very bad. They are bad because we give licenses without proper checks. This happens because our RTOs are the most corrupt in the world. Nowhere in the world can you join a driving school for two weeks and get a license to kill irrespective of whether you really have learnt how to drive. It is a little too late for the transport department and the police to train bus and taxi drivers in defensive driving as for years our drivers, which includes people who drive their own cars, are confident that even if they kill anybody they can use their contacts to get away scot free. As in the case of the actor Salman Khan who is still happily bashing up people despite having killed half a dozen employees of a bakery.

Most Indians are very gentle and polite in normal life. But put them behind the wheel of a SUV or upmarket car like a Mercedes, and they become beasts. Nobody believes in traffic manners. In theory you are not supposed to overtake from the left. But in their hurry to go to heaven or hell, drivers will cut corners and overtake from any side they like. The worst are the two wheelers which, like cockroaches, get into any gap in the traffic. Parents, far from teaching their children to be safe and polite drivers, actually present them with powerful cars when they are not mature enough, making our roads even more dangerous. The majority of the vehicles bought in Goa, apart from two wheelers, are powerful SUVs, which cause the most damage in accidents. The confluence of powerful, high-speed vehicles and our pot-holed and streetlight-less roads is a recipe for disaster.

We are delighted that an extremely efficient civil service officer, Nikhil Desai, who was managing director of Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) until recently, has been made the director of transport. Maybe his sin was that for the first time he earned a major profit for GTDC. However, I would prefer to consider his elevation to director of transport as a promotion and a challenge. The biggest challenge in Goa now is to how to reduce challenges. Nikhil should follow the advice of Dr Mohan. The IIT expert believes that you cannot change people because unlike in the UK or Europe we have encouraged bad drivers. In the UK even the Prince of England will have his license suspended if he is caught driving while drunk.

Dr Mohan suggests that instead of trying to change the driver we should try to create a system where people cannot drive too fast or roughly. He suggests we shift the responsibility to the road transport system. Research has shown that when there are speed breakers there is a dramatic drop in the percentage of accidents. Similarly when there are traffic circles it forces drivers to reduce their speed. Mohan suggested the maximum speed limit should not exceed 40 to 50 km per hour. The speed limit at the Bandra Worli sea link is 80 km per hour. At night on the Dona Paula bypass, kids on their Harley Davidsons have races at over 100 km per hour. The first thing Nikhil should do is stop the racket of driving schools bribing officials and getting licenses for those who cannot drive. I have had five drivers in the last six months, none of whom have passed their 5th standard. They do not want to wear seat belts and insist on talking on their mobiles while driving. There should be strict enforcement of rules banning all drivers including taxi drivers from using mobile phones while driving.

Kingfisher developments

AND a few stray thoughts on the arrest of the Kingfisher chor, Vijay Mallya, who ran away to London owing `9,000 crore to a group of banks led by SBI – the same bank now trying to recover its losses from lending money to such maha chors, by extorting money from poor depositors. It is bad enough that SBI demands fees not only for withdrawal but even for deposits in cash. It has also increased the minimum balance and in the latest act of harassing the customer, has imposed a charge on every payment by cheque.

In any case the UK government has finally agreed to consider sending Mallya back to India to face trial. It is not going to happen very soon as right now he is on bail of more than `6 crore and the hearing is expected to take six months.

Meanwhile his Kingfisher Villa at Candolim, which was taken to auction a few times without finding a buyer, has finally found another aspiring king of good times. The new owner of the villa is Sachin Joshi of the JJM group. Sachin who is a film actor also owns the Kings brand of Goan beer, which was started by former minister and reformed smuggler, Monte Cruz of Margao. Sachin has admitted that he has always been a great fan of Vijay Mallya. Besides his beer factories, Sachin also wants to follow in the footsteps of Mallya by starting a whisky factory, which will make premium scotch or at least the Indian version of it. I hope he will not call it Kingfisher. Sachin seems to be the right choice, as like Mallya himself, he arrived at his new house, Kingfisher Villa, in a Jaguar along with body guards. A major difference was that Sachin came to Kingfisher Villa with his wife and not one of the arm candies that Mallya used to be seen with.

Mining dadagiri

AND a few stray thoughts on the increasing dadagiri by the mining lobby in Goa. The mining lobby is back to its wicked old ways. Among the conditions for resuming mining, was that mining trucks will not ply through residential areas during the day. Mining trucks were to be equipped with a GPS system and were expected to stick to a speed limit of 40 km per hour or less. The director of mines had even announced that one lakh tonnes would be deducted from the production quota of the mining company whose truck was caught violating the conditions.

But in practice of course mine owners can get away with anything. The latest example is the arrest of 45 villagers of Sonshi village for protesting against very heavy mining traffic and dust pollution. Instead of sympathising and supporting the over 350 affected residents of Sonshi village, the government arrested the protestors. These residents are still in jail because they are mostly tribals who are very poor. Under the instigation of the mining companies mainly Vedanta, which is former Sesa Goa, the bail amount has been fixed at `10,000 each which comes to `4.5 lakhs collectively, an amount beyond the means of the people of Sonshi village.

It was agreed by the mine owners that they would take steps to regulate the transport of ore; that the trucks would not be over loaded; that they would be covered, and that water would be sprinkled so that there is no dust pollution. The biggest promise made by the mining industry was that a dedicated corridor would be created for the movement of trucks, so that locals were not affected by mining pollution. Over the years a large number of people have developed lung cancer because of mining dust pollution and thousands of children have died due to accidents caused by speeding trucks in the mining areas. Movement of ore by road should be completely stopped until bypasses are created, so that trucks do not go through villages and towns. The state government should withdraw its demand and the Supreme Court should refuse to grant additional capacity to the mining industry till it mends its ways. I can understand that the government is desperate for funds, but this cannot be the expense of the poor villages of Goa.

Legal notices

AND a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. I am not a stranger to legal notices since we are committed to fighting against corruption both in government and in business. I have been at the receiving end of hundreds of legal notices over the years. I have never had to apologize except in a case involving the judiciary. You cannot win against the judiciary as even the truth is not a defence in such a defamation case. I recall the time when I was hauled up by an honourable judge who knew more Portuguese then English because I had carried a letter in the ‘letters to the editor’ column in the Herald from Prof Anne Menezes called ‘Justice Goan style’.

I have received a very strange notice from an advocate, Ranauq Rao, on behalf of Archana Bhobe who claims to be the sole proprietor of Snip. My sympathies are for her husband if he is her employee. This is the strangest legal notice I have ever received. It asks me to cease and desist as though I have acted like Donald Trump and dropped the mother of all bombs on Snip. In fact I did not even write the article ‘SNIP ABUSING MIGRANTs’ which is an extract from a 70 page research report by Andrea Wright, who was commissioned to study the working of spas in Goa by the North East Association Goa (NEAG). The facts in the article are confirmed in the book written by Supreme Court lawyer Nandita Haksar, titled – “The Exodus Is Not Over” which has references to the abuse of migrants by Snip. Mr Bhobe, husband of Archana, in fact admits that all payments to employees were made in cash, which is illegal since note bandhi. Maybe the Income Tax department will check whether customers also paid in cash and Snip was involved in money laundering.

In any case the advocate considers his legal notice a masterpiece of literature. For the first time a lawyer sending me a legal notice has claimed copyright over it, as though it is a new novel by Chetan Bhagat. Advocate Raunaq Rao writes “Please be aware that this notice and its contents constitute intellectual proprietary material of our office and you are not authorised to republish this in any manner”. Dear Advocate Raunaq, only a court can tell me what to publish and what not to publish. And even a court would have to give a reason to explain why I am banned from publishing legal notices.

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