DIRTY PANJIM: Despite representing Panjim for five terms in the Assembly and occupying the chief minister’s kodel for three terms Parrikar has not been able to deal with the garbage of Panjim city and the stinking St Inez nala
By Rajan Narayan
AND a few stray thoughts for a Saturday following the week when Manohar Parrikar decided to contest from the Panjim constituency for the sixth time. For a Saturday following the week when the new, innovative director of transport, Nikhil Dessai, decided to use the proverbial carrot to persuade drivers to behave on the roads. For a Saturday following the week when the Goa State Assembly passed the General Services and Trade Tax (GST), to take effect from July. For a Saturday following the week when Parrikar told officials not to go to the residences of MLAs and ministers. For a Saturday following the week when in the wake of my complaint to the Health Minister half-a-dozen employees of the Urban Health Centre descended on my office.
AND few stray thoughts on Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar deciding to contest the bye-elections to the Goa Assembly from his favourite Panjim constituency which he has represented five times already. Since Parrikar is not a member of the Assembly though he has been sworn in as the chief minister he has to get elected to the Assembly within six months. Parrikar is not in hurry to contest a bye-election as he wants to do so only after the presidential elections are over. The term of the President Pranab Mukerjee comes to an end in June. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) does not have enough seats in the Rajya Sabha to make sure that its candidate is elected to the post of president. Since every vote will count, and Parrikar is at present a member of the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, he will resign only after the president’s election. It is a pre-condition that he should vacate his Rajya Sabha seat before he contests the assembly elections to become a Goan MLA again.
There has been some suspense on whether Parrikar would contest from Panjim. This is because in the 2017 election Sidharth Kuncalienker defeated Babush Monserrate who contested on the UGDP ticket only by a thousand votes. The BJP candidate Siddharth could have lost the election but for the fact the AAP candidate Valmiki managed to get over 1,500 of the Saraswat Brahmin vote in Panjim. Parrikar was not sure if it would be safe to contest from Panjim against Babush. The fact that Babush managed to capture the CCP has also scared Parrikar.
Initially Parrikar planned to contest from his home town Mapusa. Although Parrikar has represented the Panjim constituency five times in the assembly, until a year ago he did not have a residence in Panjim. In his nomination papers he had shown the address of a close friend in Panjim as his residence. Even when Manohar Parrikar was the chief minister he did not stay in the official residence but went back every night via Alankar gaddos to his residence in Mapusa. But Francis D’Souza the deputy chief minister who expected to be made chief minister was not willing to resign his seat unless he was nominated for the post of vice president of India. He was not satisfied with the offer of becoming the governor of one of the BJP states.
INTERESTINGLY all the seven Catholic MLAs out of the 13 MLAs elected on the BJP ticket (except for Francis) offered to step down to allow Parrikar to return to the assembly. Parrikar very seriously considered the offer of Nilesh Cabral to contest the Curchorem seat which the latter was willing to vacate. But perhaps in view of the protest against mining pollution, Parrikar decided it may not be safe for him to contest from Curchorem. There was no question of contesting from Calangute as it is a minority dominated area where the Catholics might vote against him. So finally Parrikar is back to Panjim.
In fact on Wednesday after the special assembly session on the GST on Tuesday, Parrikar announced that he would be contesting from the Panjim constituency. His chamcha Sidharth Kuncalienker has announced that he will be resigning to enable Parrikar to return to the assembly. It is not clear yet whether Babush will contest though the Congress has declared that it would oppose Parrikar. It is also not clear whether Babush will be the Congress candidate. It may be recalled that the Congress expelled Babush for putting up a panel against the party in the elections to the CCP. Even though the Congress may be willing, and in fact eager to offer the ticket to Babush, he may not be willing as it may not be safe for him to take pangga with Parrikar.
The only hope of the residents of Panjim is that at least this time after he is elected Parrikar will pay a little more attention to Panjim city. Before moving to Delhi as defence minister, after the BJP victory in 2012, Parrikar used to spend more time in South Goa than in his own constituency Panjim. Despite having represented Panjim for over 20 years and having been chief minister on four occasions, Parrikar has not solved the garbage problem of Panjim. A problem that he created by diverting the Mapusa garbage to the Curca garbage dump which used to be home for all the Panjim garbage. But Curca collapsed under the burden of taking the garbage of the whole of north Goa. Parrikar has not been able to find an alternate dumping site for Panjim garbage. Shockingly the Panjim parade ground, where Liberation day and Independence day are celebrated, has been used for dumping garbage. Instead of boasting about the state-of-the-art waste management plant that he has put up in Saligao, it is high time Parrikar set up a similar plant for the capital city‘s garbage. Though Panjim was the first to start door-to-door collection of garbage, it has come down to 90 in the rank of dirty cities because Parrikar has not been able to find a home for Panjim garbage.
CARROT AND STICK
AND a few stray thoughts on the new director of transport Nikhil Desai deciding to use the carrot instead of the stick to sudarify drivers of vehicles. With his vast experience in tourism as director of tourism and chairman of Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), Nikhil has decided that it is not easy to improve the mindset of drivers in Goa. The stick does not seems to work as Goan drivers and owners of vehicles continue to be as rash as ever despite fines. Goan drivers do not have any civic sense or traffic manners. As Parrikar himself admitted, the worst offenders are the police themselves, who do not wear helmets or seat belts. In fact, several cops have been fined for traffic violations during the safety week which was observed after a spate of accidents.
Having decided that he cannot reform bad drivers, Nikhil has decide to try to reward the good ones. The idea is to set an example. So much so, that from the day he took over effectively as director of transport, Nikhil has directed the RTO inspectors to present roses to two wheeler drivers who are conforming to all the rules including wearing a helmet. He has of course not stopped fining drivers who break the rules. So atleast for now it will be both the carrot and the stick. Maybe it would be more effective if he offers all drivers and owners of vehicles a box of alphonso mangoes rather than roses which have thorns.
OLA AND UBER
THE biggest challenge before Nikhil is the online campaign to permit Ola and Uber to come to Goa. The bitter ground reality is that the taxi mafia in Goa have been looting both locals and tourist. There is a Facebook post which points out that whereas some airlines are offering air tickets from Mumbai to Goa for less than `1000, the taxi fare from the airport to Calangute is `2000. The taxi mafia response is typically arrogant—Let those who cannot afford it not use cabs.
The grim reality is that not only tourists, but locals are also affected by the bandits who call themselves taxi drivers in Goa. With the minimum fare being `28 per km and passengers having to pay return fare at night, few can afford taxis and autos or even motorcycle pilots. Unfortunately tourists and locals have no choice as the public transport buses come to a stop on most routes and particularly tourism routes latest by 8 pm. Moreover it is dangerous to travel on private and public buses with the constant screams of fatlem fudem which is one more reason locals have stopped relying on public transport.
Goa has a serious problem because the vehicle population is higher than the total population of the state. Worse, the bulk of the bikes on the roads are high-powered bikes, and the four-wheelers I see are mostly all large SUVs. Nikhil can solve the safety aspect only if there is more and better public transport so that the number of private vehicles on the roads come down. The PWD can also help by making better designed roads and not creating pot holes regularly to earn bribes from contractors.
AND a few stray thoughts on the State Assembly passing the GST bill in a special session of the Assembly on Tuesday. The GST bill aims to substitute the hundreds of taxes levied by the centre and the state by a single tax which would be shared by all the states. To take just one instance of the tourism industry, now you have the Value Added Tax (VAT) on food which is 22 per cent if you are having dinner in a grade one restaurant or a five-star hotel. In addition there is a luxury tax and a swachh bharat cess. Till recently most restaurant also charge a service tax. So much so, that for every `100 worth of food you order in a restaurant, `22 to `32 goes to the government.
In the case of industries also, there are a very wide range of taxes. There is the sales tax which has to be paid on raw materials. There is the entry tax which has to be paid when cement or steel is brought from outside by the builders. There is also the service tax which has to be paid by all professionals. In addition to central and state taxes, local bodies like the CCP also levy their own house tax, garbage collection fees and other taxes. For instance, if anyone wants to hold a music or fashion show, the total taxes could add up to 40 per cent. Besides the quantity of the tax, there is also the nuisance of maintaining records of payment of a dozen different taxes.
Under the GST there will be just one tax for the entire country. So much so, a truck can travel from Delhi to Goa without having to pay toll at bridges or entry tax when you enter a state or a municipal area. Following the implementation of the GST in July there will be no Value Added Tax, there will be no central sales tax or excise or custom dues. There will be no luxury tax or entertainment tax. This does not mean that there will be no tax at all. What is being done is that all the taxes are being combined so that you pay at a single point so that accounting is easier and evasion becomes difficult. For instance now very few shops and even restaurants pay any taxes because they don’t issue any bill. This will become impossible and unproductive when GST comes into force. This is because as in the case of TDS the trader or manufacturer can claim credit for the amount paid as taxes. Goa stands to benefits as it is a consumer state. So the gross revenue will go up by `1000 crore even after the abolition of most state taxes except for those on petrol and daaru which are outside the purview of GST.
And a few stray thoughts on Parrikar telling officials that they cannot meet MLAs and ministers at home. The presumption is that officials should be available to the public in the office and not be running after ministers. Moreover it could be dangerous to visit an MLA or a minister at home as was proved in the case of Mickky Pacheco.
WHEN Mickky was a minister in Parrikar’s cabinet he summoned a junior engineer of the electricity department home, as one of his supporters had complaints about frequent breakdowns in power supply. Not happy with his reply, Mickky slapped him. Unfortunately for Mickky the power employee’s union filed a complaint and Mickky was convicted of assaulting a public servant.
It is true that the ban on officials going to the residence of MLAs and ministers will not only ensure better service to citizens but less pressure on the babu. During the darbars of MLAs and ministers they are conscious of their image. They want to appear like heroes to the people who have come with complaints or seeking favors. To show how important they are, they are likely to shout at officials even though they know that they are helpless. If the linesman does not have a ladder or gloves he cannot be expected to climb an electricity pole. Similarly a PWD engineer cannot do anything about repairing a road if the contractor has not been paid. It is unlikely however that the ruling party minister will obey the order of the chief minister. If they cannot summon the official home the people will think that the MLA or minister has no power. This will affect their chances of getting re-elected.
And a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. After I posted on Facebook and complained to the Health Minister about my malaria relapse, a large team from the Health Department and the Urban Health Centre came to my office. They took blood samples of the entire staff on slides. The Health Officer of the Urban Health Centre also came with them. For a change, the staff of the Health Department, most of whom are from Sattari, had to do some work. In the past they would find an excuse not to work claiming they are baba’s people. Every second politician in Goa is either Baba or Babush.
I was not surprised that the huge team from the Health Department came rushing after my complaint to the minister, but the issue is not me and my staff, who are literate and can look after ourselves. The Health Department staff did not take the blood samples of hundreds of migrant labour staying at Dempo Bhat who cannot afford the treatment or even the blood test to find out if they have malaria. I suggested that the Urban Health Centre in charge give the preventive tablets to the migrant labour staying at Dempo Bhat in tiny rooms rented out by mundkars of Rajesh Dempo. Maybe Rajesh Dempo can offer free malaria testing and treatments to those staying in his property in Dempo Bhat at the Dempo Healthcare Centre in La Campala colony.