TAINTED: Lucky 7, the latest casino to get permission to berth in the Mandovi, is owned by Gopal Goyal Kanda, a notorious politician who has been accused of abetting the suicide of an air hostess

By Rajan Narayan

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when an old media colleague Helena Joshee, died unknown, unsung and unrecognised even by the Times of India, the organisation for which she and her husband had worked. For a Saturday following the week when to satisfy the ego of Vijai Sardessai the coconut was made the state tree inviting protests from fans of the matti tree. For a Saturday following the week when the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has promised to move the casinos from the Mandovi river, was ordered to permit Lucky 7, a new casino, to berth in the already crowded in river Mandovi. For a Saturday following the week when the Vedanta group were exempted from the police investigation into the mining scam. And a few stray thoughts on the importance of noting down the IMEI number of your expensive mobile phone as if you lose it you cannot get it back unless you tell the police the number.

And a few stray thoughts on the tragic death of Helena Joshee in her Model Ocean View apartment in Caranzalem. I came to know about her death from a report on page 3 of the Times of India on Monday. The TOI reported it as the death of an anonymous senior citizen without realising that she had been one of their star reporters in Mumbai and that her husband O K Joshee had been the chief reporter of the Bombay edition of the TOI in the 70s. Helena and OK were a very popular couple in the social circuit in Bombay, and were known to all the bold and beautiful and the rich and powerful. In Goa she was friendly with Patricia Sethi, former chief of bureau of Newsweek, the well-known US weekly, and Cordelia, who used to work for the Herald at one time. Helena who was in her 60s had became a recluse and had cut of her ties with most of her friends with the exception of Cordelia and a Chinese origin gentlemen, called David Chung. They were the only ones who seemed to be aware that she had died.

According to the TOI report her body was discovered on Monday evening when a friend of hers had gone to visit her at home. There was no response to the door bell and calls to her mobile phone. The friend, who has not been named, reportedly called the police who broke open the door and found her lying dead on her bed in the bedroom. The report claims that she had a wound, but had not gone to see a doctor. I learned from my sources that she was last seen on Friday, which means that she could have died anytime between Friday night and Monday evening.

The curious part is that no post-mortem has been held so far. It seems illogical that anyone with a wound would refuse to go to a doctor. There is no news on how she died though she was allegedly suffering from cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection) according to my medical sources in the Goa Medical College. According to a doctor she was both a heavy smoker and a heavy drinker. This is not to defame Helena. Many senior citizens who live alone go into depression and take refuge in liquor. The ancestral homes in Goan villages are full of aging spinsters and widows who live alone with only drinks for company. The question bothering me is whether Helena committed suicide or was even murdered. It does not make sense to me that she died of natural causes.

When I read about her death in the TOI, I informed both the editor and the news editor about her past connection with the TOI. I had mentioned to them that the police had sent word to some relatives of hers, or rather of her husband’s, with whom she had been in touch. But as of Wednesday, no one had come to claim the body. I feel very sad that someone who was so vibrant and had so many friends, is lying ignored when she died alone in her flat. If she was in depression could her friends have helped? How popular Helena was, is obvious from the over 500 responses I got on my post on the Goan Observer Facebook page. Our concern now is to establish the cause of death and hope that the relatives contacted by the police come down to perform her last rites and give her a dignified send off.

I am shocked that the TOI has not even carried an appropriate obit, even after being informed that she was a former reporter of theirs who was married to the former chief editor of TOI. As far as the police are concerned, they should look at Helena’s Facebook page from where I got a lot of information on her friends. If I can do it I don’t know why the police cannot. In fact if they have got her mobile, they can even trace the calls she made before she died which might reveal how she died and when.

Coconut Grass Tree

AND a few stray thoughts on the coconut palm being elevated to the status of state tree. This was one of the demands of the Goa Forward (GF) for extending support to Manohar Parrikar to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state. It may be recalled that Rajendra Arlekar who was the Minister for Forests in the previous BJP government had reduced the coconut palm to the status of grass. This was allegedly done to favour Vani Agro, a distillery approved by the Investment Promotion Board (IPB) which had approved an industrial project in an orchard containing over 10,000 coconut trees. It was to enable the promoters of Vani, who were close to the BJP, to cut the trees, that the status of the coconut was downgraded.

Under the Forest Act no one can cut any tree including a coconut palm without permission. I recall that a colleague of mine had to go to court as the coconut tree in his neighbour’s compound was about to fall on his roof. Coconuts grow widely in Goa and many restaurants and hotels in the coastal belt are located in the middle of coconut trees. To prevent the coconuts from falling on the heads of customers, most hotels and restaurants put up a net. I can vouch for the fact that a coconut falling on you from a height of 10 metres can be a very painful experience. Once when I was walking on Hawaii beach in Dona Paula, a coconut fell, fortunately not on my head, but on my shoulder.


SOME coconut farmers in Goa have been demanding amendments to the Forest Act to make it easier to cut coconut trees for another reason. Most of the existing trees are very old and belong to varieties which grow very tall. This means that  the coconuts cannot be plucked without the services of professional pluckers. Unfortunately there are very few young people willing to climb and harvest coconuts, even though the fees are very attractive. Many people who have coconut orchards want to replace the present coconut trees with the dwarf variety, which have become very popular in Kerala. The advantage with the dwarf variety is that it probably gives a much higher yield, and is at a level where anybody can pluck it, without climbing a 10 foot coconut tree. For the lack of pluckers, most people ignore their coconut plantations, as the cost of harvesting is more than the cost of looking after them. Which is why the majority of coconuts that you see at every street corner in summer, are from Kerala, and not from Goa. These Kerala coconuts are mostly stale unlike fresh Goan coconuts plucked the same day from the tree.

But the decision in the common minimum programme to name the coconut palm as the state tree has met with stiff opposition. The problem with the decision is that Goa already has a state tree which is the matti tree. So what happens to the matti if the coconut is made the state tree? The matti which is also known as the crocodile bark tree, has enjoyed the status of the state tree as it is an exclusively Goan species, which has the capacity to store water for the dry season and its bark is fire resistance. According to former Principle Chief Conservator of Forests Richard D’Souza, there is no need to downgrade the matti tree just because of the mistake of the previous BJP government. It would be adequate to recognised the coconut as a palm and not grass, and call it the cultural tree of Goa as it is a part of the culinary tradition of Goa. This is because there can be no fish curry without coconuts, and Goa means xit kodi.


AND a few stray thoughts on the Goa Bench of the Bombay High court directing the government to permit a sixth casino to berth in the Mandovi River. The sixth casino which is called ‘Lucky 7’ is owned by Gopal Goyal Kanda, the notorious Harayana politician who was arrested for abetting the suicide of an air hostess. The government of Goa in its desperation for revenue has already collected crores of rupees from him. It had already given permission for the sixth casino but had delayed giving it the green signal to move into the Mandovi River.

The owners of Lucky 7 have repeatedly approached the Court for permission to move into the Mandovi. The ship is now berthed in the high seas near Mormugoa harbour. This, despite the fact that the ships that are used for gambling, are condemned ships which cannot sail even for a few metres in a river, let alone the sea. In theory the ships that are now berthed in the Mandovi were supposed to be anchored five nautical miles from the shore, as they are considered offshore gambling vessels. Since the Lucky 7 is not having much luck in the sea, which is very rough now, they are desperate to move it to the Mandovi.

In the latest hearing on Tuesday, the government was forced to let them come into the Mandovi, before the Lucky 7 is destroyed by waves. The Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was reluctant to give permission because he has promised the GF that all the casinos will be moved out of the Mandovi river. Ironically on the day the chief minister announced the common minimum programme of the coalition, he had to agree to another gambling ship in the Mandovi river. Vijai Sardesai who has been screaming the loudest on moving the gambling ships out of the Mandovi, has remained silent on the entry of Lucky 7. The Captain of Ports now has to decide if Lucky 7 is capable of coming to the Mandovi on its own or if it will have to be towed. I suspect that many of the gambling ships which have fancy funnels don’t have an engine at all and can’t move safely even a few  meters. Even if they can, they will not survive in the high seas, and certainly would be unsafe for the punters.

Promises, Promises

THE common minimum programme according to Vijai Sardesai has declared that the casinos will be moved out of the Mandovi. But no time frame has been fixed. Nobody believes Parrikar, as he has been talking about shifting the casinos right from 2012 when the BJP returned to power. It is now more than five years and the casinos are still in the Mandovi.

Mauvin Godinho, the Congress MLA who joined the BJP and got elected on the lotus, has strongly opposed the shifting of casinos to the Zuari river. So one does not know where the casinos will be berthed, as only the Mandovi and Zuari are large enough to accommodate ships of their size.


AND a few stray thoughts on the raids on mining companies who were implicated in the `35,000 crore illegal mining scam. Though the Supreme Court verdict came more than five years ago, and Parrikar had promised that the guilty will be punished, no action was taken during the previous tenure of the BJP government. It is only after grabbing power recently that Parrikar has initiated raids against the mining companies. But even this is being done very selectively.

The companies which have been raided so far include Fomento, whose chairmen Audhut Timblo is very close to Digambar Kamat. The other mining companies raided were Damodar Mangalji and the Anil Salgaocar group. In fact Arjun Salgaocar, son of late mining baron Anil Salgaocar, has secured anticipatory bill out of the fear that he may be arrested. The Anil Salgaocar group and the Fomento group are alleged to have engaged in the largest amount of illegal mining as they extracted ore over 10000 per cent more than their authorised capacity. The other mine owner who was raided was Agarwal, who owns all the property where Aivon village is located in Dona Paula. Significantly no raids were conducted on Sesa Goa, which is now a part of the Vedanta group. It is only a coincidence that the lawyer for the Vedanta group is Atmaram Nadkarni, a good friend of Manohar Parrikar and a former advocate general of Goa.

Even more significantly, Digambar Kamat is the only politician besides Joaquim Alemao, who has been called for questioning by the special investigation team probing the iron ore scam. Both Digambar Kamat and Pratap Singh Rane have been accused by the Shah Commission of having given retrospective approval of the conversion of mining concessions into leases. Pratap Singh Rane has obviously bought himself insurance by not opposing his son joining the BJP.


AND a last stray though for yet another Saturday. If you lose your mobile phone there is a good chance that you can get it back. This is because every mobile phone has an unique IMEI number which, like car number plates, is distinctive. No two mobiles have the same IMEI number. However you should record this number as even if the police have found your mobile after recovering it from a mobile chor, you cannot get it unless you are able to provide the IMEI number as proof of ownership. This happened with a colleague who lost his mobile phone. When he went to the police station he was asked for his IMEI number which he had not noted down. They refuse to even to show him the phones they have recovered until he produced the number. So the colleague has to say good bye to his expensive android phone. Although if your phone has ever been connected to the internet you may be able to find out the number even if you have not stored it safely.


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