THE DETERIORATING QUALITY OF LIFE IN PANAJI

Goa going the Las Vegas way! Latest casino Big Daddy reigns solidly on the river Mandovi; Garbage dumped pavements of Panaji have no utility value; all St Inez culverts are in a state of broken down condition and points for neighboring residents to dump their litter and garbage. Is this ‘Smart City’ Panaji in the making? Where has all the progress and development money gone?

BY TARA NARAYAN

PANKAJBALA R PATEL has seen lovely small time riverside town Panaji going vertical most haphazardly through 17 years…

HOW long have I lived in Panjim or Panaji (which is official now)? Seventeen going on 18 years. I’ve lived in Panjim and its vicinity — Dona Paula, Taleigao, Miramar — at various times these 17 going on 18 years. In rented accommodation mostly…moving anew every time a landlady or landlord raised the rental to include maintenance, which is absurd because surely the onus of maintenance is on owners of buildings and not tenants! Most tenants also pay for water and power charges on actual use basis.
Some landladies and landlords didn’t even think it is legal tender on their part to honour and return the three-month deposit collected at the time of sealing a rental deal for office or residential purpose. And who’s got the time to engage in a legal chase? Tenants mostly don’t have time, they just say some sad or nasty things and move on vowing not to look back at a particularly mean landlady or landlord. Funny, one landlady I love sent me a tray of choorma ladoo instead of returning our office deposit. They were very bitter choorma laddoo!
Over time the business of journalism being what it is – good times, bad times – after six-and-a-half years we moved from upmarket Panaji (three-bedroom flat on second floor with four balconies overlooking the Dona Paula jetty on one side and NIO gardens on the other side). …a few more moves and finally to the down market back lanes of Tonca with the stinking, garbage-choked yet much encroached upon St Inez Creek, in the backdrop.
The place we are staying presently is at Dempo bhat which offers a perfect idea of how poor, not so poor and wealthy live more or less cheek by jowl! Dempo bhat being the backyard of a builder who enjoys all the charms of a lowly slum with a few bhatkar folk — who managed to make their deals with the builder when it came to putting up a few high rise residential blocks — and soon the area become a maze of rented migrant rooms.
The Kannadiga migrants are here, of long standing or new standing (they trek back to their villages for various rituals of life half a dozen times in a year). The Nepalese too find economical dormitory digs here (3,000-4,000 for a pokey room and common toilet-baths however rudimentary and unkempt) but are a happy lot because they find employment quickly in the small time and big time hotels around the Miramar-Tonca-St Inez areas offering rooms to tourists. The Nepalese are more welcome for their gori-chitti looks and the women seldom like to work as maids. Kannadiga migrants find slum quarters hired out to them advantageous to have their babies – freebies by way of rations are granted to them as also free health care at the Goa Medical Hospital wards. Kannadiga migrants make up the bulk of Corporation of the City of Panaji labor force and many after decades of service are still awaiting the fruit of permanence which is rarely granted to them for some biased reasons.
A WEALTHY friend of mine tells me she even hired a maid from Jharkhand who while in her service in Goa wore “tight jeans, powder-lipstick…but when her husband tracked her down she was in a panic and told me to be careful, her husband had found her! He came, claimed her and took her back home…my last picture of her is she is in this black burkha, she promised me she would return next tourism season. She was the best maid I had, cooked for me, kept my three-bedroom flat very clean and sparkling.” Over the years I’ve discovered that it is pukka Goans and wealthy outsiders from the big cities of Mumbai and Delhi who exploit all the migrant labor coming in search of petty jobs – domestic maids, security officers, baby minders, restaurant hands, construction labor and so on.
The unemployed from far and near seeking a job come to Goa with dreams in their eyes of making it big but only too often even before they realize it they are trapped in barely subsistence level lives or catch 22 vicious cycles of the good life or the bad life leashed to rackets associated with tourism, drugs, prostitution, liquor, small hospitality outfits, sundry allied services.
Most of the folk on the registers of private employment agencies and service providers are unqualified or inadequately qualified migrants from the other states of India seeking job opportunities in Goa to stay alive by hook or by crook. Yes, they are fleeced by their “agents” of many hue.
Over 17 years I’ve seen Panaji – once and still charming here and there riverside town growing haphazardly, with big sweeping roads cutting across agricultural fields so that a high rise vertical slum city of sorts may yield more prosperity for its real estate developers, builders, construction lobbies in league with Goenkar politicians. Even while it grows vertically Panaji town itself continues to remain a five or six road riverine town more or less attached to the banks of the once glorious St Inez Creek (now an encroached gutter giving up its last ghosts of the varnishing good times).
Dona Paula is already on its way to becoming a high rise enclave with the old time residents grumbling furiously about how their tranquility of peaceful lifestyles have been disrupted by moneyed folk from out of Goa seeking the fresh air of Goa – along with business opportunities in hospitality and casinos. Casino companies invest in new constructions to house their out of Goa pretty young casino staff.
But the streets continue to be narrow or the existing pavements are uprooted to widen a road so that fancy four-wheelers can hog space much to the discomfiture of residents in the vicinity. Goa around Panaji is being taken up by posh and not so posh gated residential housing for Goans seeking urban lifestyles in lieu of varnishing rural village landscapes. Goans and wealthy outsiders alike want to live the good life in Goa until is totally gone with the wind give another five, ten or 15 years….governments being what they are today, made up of businessmen politicians and bureaucrats who just want to outsource the business of governance, think nothing of making short work of the natural resources of air, earth and water which were once abundantly available in Goa but are now rapidly becoming scarce or too polluted for either enjoyment of health or life.
The natural village and small town joys which made up Goa are vanishing in the name of retrogressive development and progress. The name of the game is really money, more money and even more money. Governments have come and gone in a sorry state of disarray but Goan politicians have crossed the crorepati line several times over for biwi-bache and family prosperity and in exchange some political wives do social work!
As I move about Panaji I find old pavements of inner residential colonies encroached to make for larger garden compounds for those who have no fear of the law (or have happily paid off someone in government service). The Campal promenade which is much encroached upon by private citizens to make their gardens larger is the main thoroughfare of Panaji, it is in a terrible state most times with garden refuse and piles of construction litter piling up outside on narrower pavement space which pedestrians fear to use less they get into trouble walking – funny, road is safer than pavements! The much loved promenade is more encroached upon by residents towards the Miramar beach side and I don’t see why they can’t be served notice to get back to their original lines of cut-off?
Miramar beach itself is in desperate need of being streamlined for public rest and recreation. The efficient gutters of old dating back to colonial Portuguese times, which kept Panaji from flooding over during monsoon time – are in perennial terrible state, and the city’s main drainage system from Altinho to river Mandovi, the St Inez Creek, is now a sorry story of neglect and profitable encroachment.
Panaji, the planned town of colonial Portuguese times is no more. In its place is coming up a vertical slum city with fancy hot shining ceramic floored apartments by the hundreds for all the nouveau riche of India to come buy up to enjoy the dying charms of a Goa that once was but is now going, going and will soon be gone with the wind. No thanks to all the aya and gaya Rams of politics in a hurry to feather their own nests while in power! They love Panaji? Please, what’s love? Who believes in love when there is the larger cause of personal growth and worshipping the holy grail of endless vitamin M?
Every monsoon I watch the migrant slum colonies of Dempo bhat where I live become a nightmare of flooded hell holes for the folk who service the city in various capacities…all courtesy short-sighted, unimaginative, insensitive, utterly impractical town & and country planning. One monsoon my bike skidded on a bit of mango peel in the middle of the lane and yes, I landed in an open gutter with my head mercifully spared from being bashed – it was a terrible moment of dazed despair as I got up with a few helping hand of those around.
Capital city Panjim needs a chief minister who knows Panaji and its outskirts, someone who genuinely loves Panjim beyond self and monumental ambitious greed. Someone who suffers from a burning desire to rescue it from the path of perdition it is steadily heading today… beginning with the ever growing squalor of shanty town slums by the St Inez Creek (once upon a time, a flowing lovely creek and now a ganda nullah).
If you’re a true blue and long-suffering Ponjekar like me think about all this when you cast your vote as a conscientious resident in the Panaji by-elections coming up on Tuesday, May 19, 2019. Vote for the candidate who will put Panaji first (of course they are all promising to do so!), do check and verify their past record. How guilty they are of looting Panaji’s public kitty for their own private profits?
You have quite interesting and boring choices before you — Aam Aadmi party’s Valmiki Naik, Goa Suraksha Manch’s Subhash Velinkar, the ruling BJP’s Sidharth Kunkalienkar or the Congress’ Atanasio Monseratte. A heady cocktail, indeed, don’t get carried away by glib promises.

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