GUILTY: Going by the order of the police all the pedestrians who were present during the inauguration of the Atal Setu by Manohar Parrikar should be arrested as pedestrians are not permitted on the bridge
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally agreed to meet the mining dependents. For a Saturday following the week when the State government proposed a scheme for the recovery of the mining loot. For a Saturday following the week when the Director General of Police went on the offensive against the MLAs who were objecting to the Sentinel scheme. For the Saturday following the week when destination weddings seem to have become the mainstay of the Goan tourism industry.
NO LUCK WITH MODI
And a few stray thoughts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally meeting the delegation of mining dependents from Goa.
Nothing came out of the meeting between the Modi and the delegation. The Prime Minister did not give any assurance that mining will resume soon. All that the Modi told the delegation was that he would look into the matter and that any solution will be within the law.
In sharp contrast to Prime Minister Modi, Minister for Mining Narendra Singh Tomar ruled out any amendment to extend the leases of mines which will lapse in less than two years. Tomar made it clear that the Centre will not intervene in Goa’s mining crisis.
Nearly 3,000 mining leases across the country are set to lapse in 2020 under the provision in an amendment introduced by the Narendra Modi government in January 2015, making e-auctions mandatory for the grant of mining licenses. In 1987 the mining concessions granted by the Portuguese were converted into mining leases by the Ministry of Industry. The state government’s renewal of the leases two years ago was struck down by the Supreme Court on the basis of a petition filed by Goa Foundation.
The delegation comprised all the three members of parliament —speaker Promod Sawant, Power Minister Nilesh Cabral and Independent MLA Prasad Gaonkar. The leader of the delegation was Puti Gaonkar who is a leader of the mining dependents.
The mining dependents primarily comprise of truck owners, barge owners and all those who bought machinery to lease to the mining industry. The state government tried to bypass the Supreme Court by claiming that the 87 mining leases had been renewed by the Mines Department after paying the royalty and duties. Unfortunately for both the mining industry and the mining dependents the Supreme Court passed an order on February 7, 2018 directing the state government to stop mining operations.
Although the mining group met BJP party president Amit Shah in January this year and were assured that a solution would be found, nothing happened. Though Amit Shah was reportedly in favour of passing an ordinance on the lines of the triple talaq, the Law Ministry turned it down. Narendra Singh Tomar, who is also parliamentary affairs minister, and Modi, did not favour amending the 1987 Mining Act which converted the concessions granted by the Portuguese into leases.
The legal position is very clear with the Supreme Court reiterating time and again all natural resources should be auctioned.
This came in the wake of the massive coal scam where huge blocks of coal were allotted at their discretion by officials and ministers including former UPA Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was holding temporary charge as Coal Minister. A connection was sought to be made between the granting of a coal mining lease to Kumar Mangalam Birla soon after a visit to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On the eve of the elections, the Modi government already rattled by the Rafale deal, is not anxious to spoil its image.
It is doubtful if the Supreme Court will permit resumption purely on humanitarian grounds. There are two proposals doing the rounds. One of them comes from the Sharad Pawar gang which seeks to revive mining ore production by forming Mining Co-operative Societies like the Sugar Co-operative Societies in Maharashtra and UP. The production will be done by the local people while the logistics and export will be done by the traditional ore exporters who have experience of the same. The other proposal mooted by Nitin Gadkari is the formation of a company managed by members of the Legislative Assembly of Goa with the Speaker as the chairperson. Nitin Gadkari plans to run the company from the background for the benefit of his industrial friends. Unfortunately, though the mining MLAs in Goa are in favour, Parrikar is strongly opposed. We will have to wait to see if a solution can be found to resume mining, the stoppage of which has rendered more than two lakhs people jobless.
And a few stray thoughts on the government being directed by the Supreme Court to submit the proposal for recovery of the amounts allegedly stolen by the mining industry. It will be recalled that the Supreme Court had ruled on April 21, 2014, that all mining in Goa after November 22, 2007, was illegal.
The Goa Foundation has been claiming that the total amount due to the people from all the miners put together is
65,000 crore. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and the Goa government has strongly disputed this figure and insisted that the actual loss is only around3,000 crore. It has been argued that notional losses such as mining in excess of capacity, or mining that was undertaken during the period when the mines was renewed after the expiry of the period for renewal, are technically not illegal. The argument is that they may be immoral but you cannot consider them illegal if royalty was paid and export duty and custom duty were also paid.
If the government considered all this illegal it would also be party to the robbery. In fact, Claude Alvares’ calculation of the total amount stolen by mine owners being
65,000 crore and how it could generate50,000 for each Goan family, is as much of a pipe-dream as Modi’s black money scheme. When Modi was campaigning during the 2017 election he had promised to get back all black money and deposit
15 lakhs in account of every Indian. Neither the50,000 per family of four promised by Claude or
15 lakhs promised by Modi have been realised.
According to Claude Alvares, as recently as last Monday Jharkhand imposed a fine of33,000 crore on 20 mining companies for illegally extracting ore. Considering the total budget of Goa is not more than
30,000 it is a joke to claim that mining companies owe65,000 crore or even if they do, that the amount can be recovered. Both Modi and Claude think they can take all the people for a ride all the time.
RESCUING THE CHURCH
And a few stray thoughts on how the Goan Catholic seems to be rescuing the Church not just in Goa and other parts of India, but even the UK and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Going to church has become unfashionable particularly in the west. I remember in the ‘80s when I went to church in England, there were hardly ten people.
The situation in UK is very strange with King Henry the Eighth who was refused permission to divorce and marry deciding to set up his own Church, the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the equivalent of the Pope for the Church of England. There are not many Roman Catholics in England. Indeed in the whole of Europe there are more Protestants than Catholics.
The Protestants are a sect started by Luther who objected to the corruption in the Church and the Protestant religion is the dominant religion in most of Europe and the US. The elite in the US, who migrated from UK and Europe, are often referred to as WASPs — White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Recently when Goa’s Archbishop Rahul Fernandes went to the UK, the largest crowd ever witnessed at the Swindon church near London was because of the large number of Goans who live there. It is not just followers but priests and Bishops who were supplied to the rest of the Christian kingdom by the Church in India and the Church in Goa. A large number of Bishops and Popes are of Goan origin.
The high point for the Catholic community living in the Gulf was the first ever visit of Pope Francis. It was very gracious of the UAE, which has more Goans than locals, to invite the Pope on a visit when Modi has refused despite repeated requests. The Vatican, over which the Pope presides, is considered a country, and the Pope can visit only when there is an invitation from the head of state. Even more encouraging for the Goan Catholics in the Gulf was the fact that the prayers and the hymns were sung in Konkani.
MLAS & SENTINELS
And a few stray thoughts on the Director General of Police going on the offensive against the MLAs objecting to the Sentinel scheme.
It may be recalled that there has been a lot of protest against the Sentinel scheme (more popularly mocked as the spy scheme) introduced by the DG, Muktesh Chandra. Under the scheme citizens are paid to capture the image or video of a traffic offence along with the vehicle number on an app which sends the photo/video to the control room of police so that they can follow up and issue tickets etc.
The police claim that following the introduction of the spy scheme, 34 motorists have been convicted in drunk driving cases, 1,754 similar cases are pending on court and 4,227 licenses have been cancelled. As many as 25,000 cases of drunken driving cases alone have forwarded to the Transport Department.
If you take into an account other offenses like not wearing a helmet, speaking on a mobile while driving, and not wearing seat belts, more than half the population of Goa would be issued challans by the police. Oddly the seven lakh challans do not include one single taxi driver who has committed any offense. Muktesh Chandra can harass ordinary citizens but not the taxi mafia. Admittedly steps have to be taken to stop violation of traffic rules, but these have to be equally tough on all.
It is my experience that Goan drivers and most Goans themselves, except the very educated, do not believe in traffic rules. Very few young Goans wear helmets. Some of my colleagues and my drivers don’t even believe in seat belts.
Talking on mobiles is considered a birthright. The only concession that the taxi driver will make is to use their phones handsfree with earphones or other devices. Thank god we do not have Ola and Uber in Goa. Drivers of Ola and Uber are constantly getting mobile calls asking them if they are available and to come to some destination. If talking on the mobile is an offense, all Ola and Uber drivers would be arrested.
Compared to its population Goa has an incredible number of vehicles. According to the 2011 census the vehicle population was 14.5 lakhs which has risen to 20 lakhs in 2019 with as many as 75,000 vehicles registered every year in the state.
The population of Goa grows at less than 1.5% while the annual birth rate of vehicles is 13.9%. The numbers of vehicles is equivalant to the population of Goa which means that every man, women and child has a vehicle. The most dangerous are the two wheelers and accident rates are high because tanks are filled not with gas but with alcohol. Goa needs a spy scheme as the number of police to control the traffic is very low with a ratio of 1:2428.
The number of two wheeler has increased in Goa from 7.5 lakhs to 9.7 lakhs in the last four years itself. The number of cars have gone up from two lakhs to 5 lakhs and goods vehicles from 59,000 to 69,000. The figure would have been much higher but for the suspension of mining.
The number of taxis have gone up from 17,000 to 25,000. When you make a cocktail of a flood of vehicles and pot-holed roads the result is several lives lost and several gallons of blood spilt on the roads.
Ironically the DG himself may be encouraging people to commit an offense. If the traffic spies have to take photographs of other traffic offenders on the move, they in all probability have to be driving themselves.
The traffic police have threatened with immediate effect that motors who halt their vehicles on the newly inaugurated Atal Setu or walk on it will be fined.
The bridge, which is the third link over the Mandovi River is also off limits for two and three wheelers. This is absurd as the bridge has being built at the expense of the aam aadmi for the use of the aam aadmi. The provision for arresting motorists who were only ones allowed to use the bridge is because many of them stop to see the view rather than drive over the bridge which creates traffic congestion.
Admittedly it was announced that pedestrians, scooters and two wheelers would not be permitted on the bridge as the wind velocity at that height might blow them off the bridge or worse still they may fall on the other bridges. However, there were 5,000 people present on the bridge when Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar inaugurated it along with Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. Where was the wind velocity fear then?
The new Mandovi Bridge may have been planned and designed by Manohar Parrikar, but it is the property of the people. It is meant for use by all people and not just the khaas aadmi in their SUVs. All citizens must get together to protest against the fine against pedestrians and two wheelers and the ban on them using the Atal Setu. Let us teach the police and the chief minister that public property belongs to the public.
And a last stray thought on destination weddings having become the backbone of the Goa tourism industry. When I was returning from Mumbai last Sunday all the flights to Goa were full of wedding parties.
Incidentally the number of patients travelling on wheelchairs was also the high. This is because whenever there is a wedding, grandfathers and grandmothers, however old, also want to travel, and wheelchairs have to be organised for them to join the wedding party.
It is not true that destination weddings are only patronized by NRIs and Gujaratis. The party which was on our flight was from Orissa. I got talking to one of the group who explained the logic. In the first place a destination wedding avoided the trouble of organising the event. You could also keep guests at the minimum as unlike a wedding at the bride’s place, the number of people will be only close family. All the details of the venue, food, and décor, down to the horse or the palki, is decided by the event manager is the consultation with the bridal couple.
The formula is very simple. A small pandal is put up on the beach or close to the beach where seats are put up for the bridegroom and the family. There is also place for a hawan and the priest. Surprisingly I have never noticed a fire extinguisher or any fire safety devices. The bride groom comes first and occupies his throne. The bride is bought on a palki lifted by four people with the members of the family dancing away. Everything is nakli including the priest. Most priests are not even temple priests. Anyone who can be picked up in the street and dressed in a dhoti and can murmur a few words is acceptable as a priest. This is because the actual marriage has already been performed and registered. The destination wedding is just for some tamasha. Instead of the tradition sangeet you have a DJ who plays the latest Bollywood numbers. There is more daru them mehendi at the mehendi function. With the men in both the families Goa is a favourite destination, because you drink as much as you want, as the price of liquor is the cheapest in the country.