GOA GOING THE KERALA WAY!

SELAULIM DAM: Goa, too, is witnessing activities which are driven by greed for unlimited profits, says environmentalist Gadgil. (above) The Selaulim dam may go the Idukki way if we are not careful!

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when Madhav Gadgil, the veteran ecologist, has warned that Goa could face the fate of Kerala if it ignored eco warnings. For a Saturday following the week when on the instructions of Manohar Parrikar the cyberage scheme has been scrapped. For a Saturday following the week when the credit deposit ratio in Goa continues to be among the lowest in the country. For a Saturday following the week when unlike the hyperactivity on the part of the government and Parrikar on reviving the mining industry, there is indifference to the Mhadei Tribunal order. For a Saturday following the week when it appeared as though the entire cabinet of Manohar Parrikar migrated to United States, including Health Minister Vishwajit Rane.

GOA UNDERWATER

And a few stray thoughts on why Goa could be the next Kerala. As long as seven years ago environmentalist Madhav Gadgil had painstakingly prepared a report on the vulnerable points of the Western Ghats with the help of a panel. The panel itself, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), was formed by the Ministry of Environment & Forests.

Significantly, in his report Gadgil had specifically mentioned the Idukki dam which according to him was a classic case where the entire catchment was encroached along with the dam construction. This is equally true of Goa where even mining activity was carried out by the Radha Timblo group adjacent to the reservoir at Selaulim. When we tried to take photographs, a security guard of the Timblo group grabbed our cameras and only the disclosure of our identity and threat to call the police restrained them.

Gadgil had pointed out that the valleys in Kerala are silting up prematurely due to massive encroachment and deforestation of catchment areas.

In Goa also there has been massive deforestation with even more planned. For the Mopa airport project alone, over 10,000 trees are proposed to be cut. The Gadgil report has warned that talukas falling under the Western Ghats, such as Bicholim, Saguem, Valpoi and Dharbandora, are the most vulnerable. Coincidently these are the areas where most mining activity has been taking place. These talukas have been put in the ESZ1 which is the most vulnerable.

The talukas of Ponda, a major part of Salcette, Tiswadi, and certain parts of Pernem and Sattari fall in ESZ 2 and 3. Most of the industrial estates are located in the Western Ghat plateaus. The Gadgil report also pointed out that 31 mining leases are within 2 km of wildlife sanctuaries and 13 are within 1 km. Gadgil came to the conclusion that 80% of the state of Goa falls within the environmentally sensitively zone.

Among the most vulnerable cities of Goa is capital city Panjim. We have seen that sea level rise, coupled with extreme rainfall, converts large parts of Panjim into a river. To add to the misery of the poorest residents of Panjim, routinely the St Inez nullah overflows when heavy rainfall coincides with high tide.

It is not widely known, but many of the high rise gated colonies and even starred hotels and hospitals are built on the St Inez nullah, and could be swept away like matchsticks as has happened in Kerala.

TERI WARNING

The Energy & Resources Institute of India (TERI) has identified Ribandar, Patto, Fontainhas, Neugi Nagar, St Inez, La Campala, Miramar, Caranzalem and Dona Paula as areas partially vulnerable to water logging.

Speaking of the St Inez nullah, TERI has noted that it is exposed to increasing pollution, turning the creek into a nullah. The depth of the creek is reduced to the range of 12.4 mtrs along its course. With the creek blocked with garbage, it leads to flooding in several parts when heavy rains combine with high tides.

Destruction of the khazan land and sand dunes also post a major threat to Panjim. TERI has warned that if land is destroyed — khazan lands and salt lands are filled up — flooding in surrounding areas is bound to happen.

The impact of development on the natural drainage of the city causing floods during rains and the impact of the high floating population also takes a toll on the infrastructure.

While Goa is very well prepared on paper for disaster management, on the ground there is not even a warning mechanism or cyclone centres to accommodate the displaced.

BYE BYE CYBERAGE

And a few stray thoughts on Manohar Parrikar’s decision to abolish the cyberage scheme. Manohar Parrikar dropped a hint of his intention to scrap the mass distribution of laptops to 8th, 10th and 12th standards. Parrikar had pointed out that he had come across instances of students offering the laptop that they have received from the government on OLX for higher prices.

In any case the cyberage scheme was a huge money-making racket for the Infotech Corporation. Every year laptops were bought not from the best suppliers, or the one who quoted lowest, but from those who were willing to cough up the highest bribe. A leading infotech expert of Goan origin based in Bangalore was offered the job of managing director by Govindraj Dempo, son-in-law of Digambar Kamat. The condition for his appointment was that all purchase decisions — particularly that of laptops under the cyber-scheme would be decided by the chairman. The info tech expert was even told that he could take a 10% cut if he wanted.

The laptops were useless to student as there was no free internet connection provided which would have helped them supplement class notes. Absurdly enough, students had to pay extra for any extra accessories. Some of the poorer  probably sold their laptops. The rich who already had personal laptops probably misused them for watching pornography. There were also any number of instances of laptops going to party workers instead of students. Since the bribes demanded were so high the quality was poor, and students had to pay for their maintenance.

The government of Goa must have spent thousands of crores on providing laptops to students over the last two decades. It does not seem to have helped to improve the learning skills of the students as they were not fitted with any software which would relate to their syllabus. At least now there are apps available which make the teaching of science and maths much simpler.

Under the new scheme laptops will be supplied not to students, but to schools. The schools will permit students to use the laptops during certain hours in the day. The ownership of the laptop will remain with the schools which will have to maintain them. There will be no distribution of laptops every year and the same laptop will have to be used by students in subsequent years.

Admittedly the cyber scheme did not improve cyber literacy in Goa in a significant way or awaken interest or prepare students for jobs in the Infotech Industry, but in discarding the scheme the government is throwing the baby away with the bath water. The biggest lacuna in the scheme was the there was no income criteria. Many poor students, who would otherwise never have gotten laptops, got them at a nominal cost.

Giving laptops to schools and not students is a dumb idea, as the whole intention was to let students developed literacy. Computer labs in most schools are poorly equipped and don’t teach anything. The government could tie up with Manipal Institute of Computer Education to train students in both hardware and software which will guarantee jobs as designers, web developers and computer service personal.

LAX ATTITUDE

And a few stray thoughts on the Goa government belatedly deciding to challenge the Mhadei water dispute tribunal order and seek action against Karnataka for violating earlier orders. The tribunal had passed an injunction against Karnataka on April 17, 2014, warning it not to build any dams or divert the water of the Mhadei river which is the main source of water supply to Goa. The order was in response to Goa’s objection to the urban bunds built by Karnataka to block the flow of the Mhadei river to Goa.

The Mhadei river tribunal has granted 28 million cubic feet to Karnataka for irrigation purposes and Karnataka even went to the extent of detaining the water resources department which went to Kankumbi to check the extent of diversion of the water supply. The Mhadei tribunal has also allotted 3 TMC to Karnataka for desperately needed drinking water for Dharward and Hubli. The tribunal has pointed out that over 45% of the Mhadei waters flow uselessly into the sea as Goa has not taken any steps to put the water to use. Ironically, before the tribunal gave its order on the long standing disputes several politicians, including Vijai Sardesai, swore that not a single drop of water would be diverted to Karnataka.

Parrikar was the first to acknowledge the reality that Goa could not prevent Karnataka from using the waters of the Mhadei river which has its origin near Belgaum in Karnataka. It was perhaps Manohar Parrikar who influenced the verdict of the Mhadei tribunal. It may be recalled that he had written a letter not to the Karnataka chief minister, but to BJP President Yeddyurappa, just before the elections, offering 8 million cubic cm only for drinking water to Karnataka.

Since he was acting in his capacity as chief minister of Goa he should have made the offer to the chief minister of Karnataka and not to his party leader. His act seemed like an election gimmick. Unfortunately for Parrikar and the BJP, the party lost the elections in Karnataka which was retained by the Congress.

Among the justifications for the current allotment of water to the three states of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, the tribunal commented that Goa has not submitted any studies to justify its claim that it would suffer from severe damage if the Mhadei was diverted.

Obviously the Goa government, despite the natak staged by former advocate general Atmaram Nadkarni, has not done its homework. There are better hopes that the Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan led by Nirmala Sawant would be able to get justice from the Mhadei tribunal.

LOW CREDIT DEPOSIT RATIO

And a few stray thoughts on the very low credit deposit ratio in the state of Goa compared to the rest of the country. What this means is that the quantity of deposits in Goa is much higher than the loans extended by the banks. This could be partly because of the huge population of NIRs who deposit their savings in Goa. But conversely if no loans are being taken it is due to the neglect of industry. Admittedly a number of multinationals such as Nestle,  Hindustan Lever, and all the major pharma companies have manufacturing units in the state. Nestle boasted that all the Kit Kat made in the country were manufactured in its local plants. However these companies do not take loans from Goan banks as their head offices, based in Mumbai or Gujarat, take all the financial decisions.

A lot of the loans taken by Goans have been invested in real estate and even hotels. The problem in these cases is that very often there is a dispute over the title. When the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) tried to lease out its properties in Miramar and its vast land bank in Anjuna to third parties, it found that there was no clear title in favour of the GTDC.

A lot of cheating takes place by land owners who mortgaged land for loans, thanks to the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). After taking the loan against the mortgaged land a member of the family objects claiming that he was excluded from the inventory proceedings. Under the UCC all the heirs have equal right to the property of the parents. Due to the disputes which are deliberately created to delay or refuse payment of loans, many cooperative banks in Goa have lost money on multiple occasions.

Though borrowing by industries in Goa may be lower, consumer loans are quite high compared to other states. Since every Goan family has a two-wheeler or in many cases more than one two-wheeler there is a demand for loans for purchase of both two- and four-wheelers.

The demand for housing loans has also come up. The bitter truth is that banks in Goa have never been proactive in offering loans. Nor has the government intervened to make it compulsory for banks to give Goans priority in loans. It is simply not true that Goans are not interested in taking loans. This may have been true of older generation of industrialists, but not the present generation which has no hesitation in taking loans. It is the experience of all banks in the country that the retail borrower — who is normally the small borrower — always returns the loan in contrast to big sharks like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi.

The problem is while banks are willing to give loans priority based on personal guarantees to big sharks, they demand all kinds of documents and securities from the aam aadmi. I myself was denied a loan against my flat even though I had my share certificate on the grounds that I didn’t have the sale deed. Goan banks are Goan-unfriendly.

CABINET MIGRATION

And a last stray thought on the Goa cabinet migrating to the US and Canada.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is in New York for medical treatment at the Sloan Kettering Center for cancer. He has been joined by his former deputy chief minister, Francis D’Souza.

Power Minister Madkaikar is still in the Kokilaben hospital after suffering a stroke for trying to experiment with performance enhancers.

PWD Minister Sudin Dhavalikar has still not fully recovered and is likely to be operated on very soon. He apparently needs a liver transplant and might insist on going to Sloan Kettering.

The million dollar question is who is paying all these bills? Lilavati charges `50,000 per day while Sloan Kettering charges more then $5,000 per month. Unlike ministers under the DDSSY scheme the ordinary citizens get only `4 lakhs. Most of which is grabbed by the private hospitals.

With no decisions possible other ministers are also on holiday. TCP Minister Vijai Sardesai has gone to Canada for a private visit and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane is in New York, perhaps to strike more deals.

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