Birthday boy: Michael Lobo Calangute MLA has done much work to improve infrastructure for tourists — building restrooms and toilets, besides widening roads
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when Michael Lobo celebrated his birthday on Tuesday. For a Saturday following the week when pictures of Vijai Sardesai and Babush Monserrate at Heathrow sparked speculation. For a Saturday following the week when war was declared between Fomento, owned by Avdhoot Timblo, and Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai. For a Saturday following the week when Chief Minister Pramod Sawant cracked down on the former finance controller of the late Manohar Parrikar. For a Saturday following the week when the war between tourist taxis and Goa Miles continued.
And a few stray thoughts on Michael Lobo, Deputy speaker and Calangute MLA, who celebrated his birthday on Tuesday, June 18.
I judge politicians by their behaviour with their subordinate. By which I mean how they treat their drivers, maids and personal security officers assigned to them. When my former PSO, who’d been with me for 10 years, was coincidentally assigned to him, I remember that one of his first gestures was to give him money to buy a comfortable pair of Nike shoes instead of the hard leather shoes that the Police Department supplies. Michael is kind enough to even invite his PSO to celebrate the birthday of his son along with his children
Michael’s constituency is host to the most popular tourism destinations — namely Calangute, Candolim and Baga — not just in the State but the country.
Calangute has always been popular. In the old days, Calangute beach used to be where marriages were organised between holidaying Goan parents living outside Goa. Boy met girl on the beach and with the approval of mother they got married. However, it was only after Michael Lobo became MLA that much-needed infrastructure was created at these beaches. Before Michael there were no changing rooms or proper toilets at Baga, Calangute and Candolim. These are the minimum facilities that tourists expect.
Michael has widened many of the roads in the crowded tourism belt — particularly the road from Calangute to Baga. It is now in effect the biggest shopping arcade in Goa. You can get anything you want from jeans to bargains at the Tibetan market. Thanks to Michael, the historical traffic jam on the road to Tittos has reportedly eased. The road to Goa’s most enduringly popular night club is now smooth. Michael has widened the roads with the cooperation of hotels and shopkeepers, and has also set up taxi stands and stands for motor cycle pilots. With increasing crime and disorderly behaviour by domestic tourists, he also inaugurated a police booth at Calangute.
Michael did not limit his contribution only to tourism in the Calangute constituency. He has been the first to set up a public utility and toilet block along with a Tourism Information Centre at Parra — the birth place of the late Manohar Parrikar. He also renovated the government primary school at Nayak Vaddo and created infrastructure for horticulture in Parra.
Since the tourism industry depends on, and cannot function without, adequate power supply, Michael commissioned a ten MVA transformer at Candolim. He is now in the process of connecting Calangute to the Parra transformer to meet the increasing demand. He fought to put up electrical poles in the paddy fields so that power shut downs and interruption were reduced.
Michael has done more for tourism than any other minister past or present. Michael also has been loyal to the BJP even though he deserves much more than his current post of deputy speaker. Michael has proved that even as an ordinary MLA you can get work done if you have the capacity to win friends and influence people.
CAUGHT AT HEATHROW
And a few stray thoughts on a picture of Vijai Sardesai and Babush Monserrate together at the Heathrow Airport in London.
This sparked off a great deal of speculation on whether they were plotting to topple the Pramod Sawant government. During his election campaign Babush had announced that there would be a new government in the state if he won the Panjim seat. The story going around was that the Congress would offer Vijai Sardesai the chief ministership to topple the BJP government. Babush himself commands the personal allegiance of at least half-a-dozen Congress MLAs. In addition, during the Panjim bye-election he also got the support of the lone MGP MLA Sudin Dhavalikar.
Sudin has made it clear that the alliance with the BJP has ended with the death of Manohar Parrikar. Vijai on the other hand, who has always claimed that his support was for Manohar Parrikar in his personal capacity and not to the BJP, is still with the BJP. Indeed, Vijai had made it clear to Nitin Gadkari that he would support the BJP coalition only if Manohar Parrikar was made CM. This was among the reasons why Manohar Parrikar quit his job guarding the country as defense minister to return to Goa as chief minister. Unfortunately, soon after Parrikar returned to Goa he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and hence for a year until he found final release, the state had no government.
Vijai is also unhappy about the Cabinet expansion in which Vishwajit Rane and Mauvin Godinho are the main beneficiaries. The only additional portfolio that Vijai has got is forests. This is why the pictures of Vijai and Babush in London created rumours that they have decided to get together in London to plan to bring down the government. After all who would suspect that they would go all the way to London to strike a deal.
The fact that they were caught on Facebook only proves that with social networking nothing is secret any longer and there is no place to hide. Vijai should have known that more than 50% of the staff at Heathrow airport in London are of Goan origin.
Subsequently, both Vijai and Babush claimed they had travelled to London together only to watch the World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan which India won for the seventh time. Vijai and Babush even posted a photograph with the BJP’s Datta Prasad Naik commenting that they are united in their support for India. Both Vijai and Babush are back and the coming session of the Assembly will show if there is going to be any change in the government.
Fomento VS VIJAI
And a few stray thoughts on the war between the Fomento Group and Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai.
About a decade ago the Fomento Group volunteered to take charge of the Sonsodo dump and set up a modern waste management plant. This was probably inspired by the fact that the owners of Fomento, the Timblos, are originally from Margao and shifted to Panjim only after Cidade de Goa was built. Avdhoot Timblo also moved his residence to a huge mansion reportedly within the CRZ zone at La Marvel colony at Dona Paula.
It is not widely known that Fomento has handed over the management of Cidade de Goa to the Taj group. So much so they are no longer directly connected with the Cidade de Goa. It would have been presumed that Avdhoot Timblo would have offered to set up the waste treatment plant free as part of his corporate social responsibility and in gratitude for all the favours Margao MLA and former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat had done him, including getting the illegal breach of the CRZ zone by Cidade de Goa regularized. However, the Fomento group insisted on a one-time fee for equipment and monthly payments for the operation of the plant even though they were making a profit by selling the compost.
The recent crisis arose because the plant could only deal with segregated waste. In simple words the Fomento waste treatment plant wanted the Margao Municipal council to separate dry waste from wet waste. Unlike in Panjim where, thanks to Sanjeev Rodrigues, a system was set up for segregation of waste at source, no such system prevails in Margao. Worse still, garbage from all the other neighbouring areas like Raia and Curtorim and even the beaches, was dumped at Sonsodo. It was a clear case of over load.
There was some co-ordination between the MMC and Fomento as long as the late Shridhar Kamat was the general manager of Fomento. Since Shridhar died there has been a state of war between them and the MMC which is controlled by Vijai and Digambar. While Digambar is a very close friend of the Fomentos, Vijai is under no obligation to them. The MMC is made up not only of 10 wards from Margao city but 10 wards from Fatorda constituency.
The garbage dump which burned for almost ten days is now quiet. But a fresh crisis has come up as Fomento has unilaterally refused to accept any more garbage at Sonsodo. They have given notice to quit management of the Sonsodo dump, but have said that they will not vacate till their arrears of around `12 crore are paid. They are claiming that Sonsodo is houseful and there is no more space for dumping garbage and are demanding that the MMC should remove the accumulated garbage at the dump so that fresh segregated garbage can be treated.
Margao like Panjim does not have a dump to host garbage. In a game of one-upmanship Vijai has offered Fomento land for dumping and segregation in Fatorda. Meanwhile garbage is piling up all over Margao making the commercial capital stink. Both sides — MMC and Fomento — are adamant. Vijai is even threatening to dump the garbage in the palaces of the Timblo family in Margao and even in their hotel in Panjim without knowing that Cidade de Goa is no longer managed by the Timblos.
PRAMOD SAWANT STRIKES
And a few stray thoughts on Chief Minister Pramod Sawant asserting himself. In a lightening strike Pramod Sawant has carried out a reshuffle of the top bureaucracy in the State.
The most hated man in the chief minister’s office was Michael D’Souza, Additional Secretary – Finance, who used to control how much money was to be released to various ministers from the limited revenue that was flowing in. There has been a sharp decline in revenue since the suspension of mining and decline in charter tourism. Michael, who enjoyed the total confidence of Manohar Parrikar, would present the former chief minister the collection numbers and payments to be made every day. Since collections were much lower than revenue, Parrikar would decide who would get how much. Michael also decided, on the orders of Parrikar, which newspapers and magazines should be paid for advertisements. The ad bills of papers considered hostile like Herald and Goan Observer and even Lokmat were delayed indefinitely.
Many ministers could not carry out even urgent development plants because Michael would not release the money. It was even alleged that when Parrikar was very sick it was Michael who used to send the files and decide who should be paid. It would be an understatement to say he was the most hated official in the CM’s office. Bowing to pressure from the entire Cabinet Pramod Sawant has transferred Michael out of the crucial Finance Department.
And a few stray thoughts on Chief Minister Pramod Sawant who seems to have bowed to pressure from the tourist taxi lobby.
The tourist taxi lobby which is at war with the GTDC app-based cab provider GoaMiles wanted Nikhil Desai sacked as director of transport. Nikhil had taken a very tough stand and insisted that the taxi drivers should be brought under control.
The situation has gone out of hand with a Goa Miles driver being assaulted and seriously injured by the tourist taxi mafia. I believe that they are a mafia since they are a law unto themselves and do not want any regulation. Goa is the only part of the country which also happens to be a tourism destination where the taxi fare is more than air fare. Although there is a Supreme Court order Goan taxis still do not have meters. They also object to a GPS system as they will not able to take tourist and locals for a ride. In app-based taxi services like Ola and Uber and Goa Miles you can track the route that the taxi driver is taking and ensure that he is not taking you for a ride. The passenger also can share where exactly he or she is at any time during the ride which is important for the safety of women.
Not only are taxi fares in Goa the highest in the country but there is no accountability at all. We have no choice but to pay what the taxi driver demands. They are united in looting and making sure there is no competition between them. Anyone who offers a lower fare gets beaten up.
Goa is yet to be liberated from the taxi mafia who have their own areas of influence. For instance a tourist taxi from North Goa can drop you at a hotel in South Goa. But it cannot wait for you or pick up guests from the hotel. You will have to dismiss the North Goa taxi and only take a taxi attached to the hotel.
Recently when I went to a 5-star hotel with a doctor friend, the Orissa taxi driver of a tourist taxi from Mapusa expressed concerns about how he could get bashed up by taxi drivers from South Goa. What we are most surprised over is that even the Congress and former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat are supporting the tourist taxis in their violent war against Goa Miles. The tourist taxis claimed that they are locals whereas the Goan Miles drivers are outsiders. This is not true because even in the case of tourist taxis only the owners are Goan. It is usually migrants who drive the taxis.
Coming back to the transfers Nikhil has been posted back as managing director of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation which he has successfully managed for more than a decade. The chief minister has brought his own men to take charge of the important posts as every chief minister does.