VICTIMIZED: The Lokayukta has singled out former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, Mines Secretary Sain and honest officials Prassan Acharya.
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when an honest bureaucrat, Prassana Acharya, became the victim of politicians. For a Saturday following the week when the Panchayats retain their powers to grant construction and occupancy certificates. For a Saturday following the week when GST has proved to be a major liability to the state of Goa. For a Saturday following the week when both car owners and two-wheelers faced a big burden with increase in fines. For a Saturday following the week when the cost of housing went up with an increase of 20% on stamp duty.
LOKAYUKTA RAPS PARSEKAR
And a few stray thoughts on the Lokayukta recommending a first information report against former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and officials Sain and Acharya in the illegal second renewal case. It may be recalled that the Goa government, when Laxmikant Parsekar was the chief minister, directed the Mines Department to renew the licenses of 89 mines which had been suspended by the Supreme Court. The order was challenged by Goa Foundation and the Supreme Court ordered the cancellation of the renewal.
The order for the second renewal came from the ailing Manohar Parrikar who had moved to Delhi as Defense Minister. The director of mining and former mines secretary Acharya were only acting on the orders of the then chief minister, Laxmikant Parsekar. They are paying the price for following the illegal orders of the chief minister. Parsekar on his part is bleating why he has been singled out as successive chief minister including the late Manohar Parrikar were in favor of the second renewal. The mining operations in Goa were suspended over ten years ago by the SC on the findings of the Shah Commission that mining barons had engaged in illegal mining worth `35,000 crore. The Mines Department which was directed to recover the money from the mine owners did not recover a single paisa.
cbi probe DEMANDED
Instead it renewed the suspended mines for a second time in defiance of the SC order. Lokayukta PK Mishra has recommended that the Anti-Corruption Bureau should file a FIR against Laxmikant Parsekar, the then CM, the former Mine Secretary Pawn Kumar Sain and the Director of Mines Prassana Acharya for criminal conspiracy. The Lokayukta has also shockingly claimed that he has no confidence in the ACB of the State. He has pointed out “an unfortunate tendency in many organizations to protect the privileged and the powerful.”
Coming down heavily on the ACB of the government he pointed out that past experience showed that it was most reluctant to launch prosecution when influential political persons or public servants are involved, “in several cases ACB fail to register FIR when the allegations of bribery have been against public servants. This is not strange as the officers of the ACB are themselves officials who do not want to take action against their colleagues”.
OFFICIALS ARE VICTIMS
Whether it is a mining issue or any other matter of corruption it is the ministers who give the order of corruption. The official of course has the right to refuse but this would cost him his career. The smarter officials insist that the chief minister or minister sign on the order which directs the official to commit and illegal act. So far the latest order of the Lokayukta is the most severe. “Only an ostrich with its head deeply buried in the pristine sand of Arabian Sea can say that the overnight renewals made at a speed faster than the fastest jaguar has been routinely done in the course of official transactions without any iota of any mala fide intention.”
PARSEKAR IN THE DOCK
Former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar has been accused of violating Rule 37 of the Mining Control Regulations which state that without previous consent in writing of the State government no leases can be transferred or renewed. The unfortunate part is as Parsekar rightly points out is he seems to have been singly doubted by the Lokayukta. The SC in its order based on the findings of the Shah Commission had ordered action not only against mine owners but also against former chief ministers Digambar Kamat and Manohar Parrikar. The poor officials are being hung for no fault of theirs as in the current system it is very difficult for them to refuse to carry out an instruction by a minister. Under the current procedure ministers whether at the Centre or the State cannot sign any order. As anyone who has seen the gazettes will know that it is the undersecretary of the concerned department who signs the order of the minister. The procedure should be changed and ministers should be required to take the responsibility for their corrupt illegal actions. It is unlikely that anything will come off the Lokyukta’s orders.
This is because prior permissions of the governor and the chief secretary are needed for prosecuting the former CM and the officials which will never come. The governor and politicians believe in the principle of scratching each other’s back.
POWER TO LICENSE
AND a few stray thoughts on Panchayats getting back the power to issue construction and occupancy licenses. There was a move by the Minister for Revenue Jennifer Monserrate to transfer the powers to the block development officers who report to her directly. Along with Atanasio `Babush’ Monserrate who is the PDA chairman she could have forced the BDOs to grant construction and occupancy certificate to illegal structures. There are several rules laid down by the Pollution Control Board and the National Green Tribunal for construction of buildings. Among the stipulation is that any gated colony or multi storied building having more than 50 flats has to have its own sewage treatment plant. Similarly if the gated colony occupies more than 20,000 sq mts clearance is required from the Central Environment Ministry.
MOPA SLAUGHTER OF TREES
There are also strict rules framed by the Forest Department on the cutting down of trees. The Mopa airport was stayed for more than two years on the ground that the conservator of forests gave permission for cutting 25,000 trees without any justification. In fact, the survey had claimed that there were no trees on the land concerned. Under the Constitution amendment it was declared that even the right to conversion of land and the floor area ratio should be decided by the Panchayats. The principle was that any planning should be done at grassroots level. In violation of the amendment successive Town & Country Planning ministers and particularly Babush Monserrate and Vijai Sardesai have allowed large scale conversions.
Recently the coconut trees fronting Benaulim beach were mercilessly butchered to build changing rooms and toilets. It is not that Panchayats are not corrupt. Unfortunately, though there is a provision for Gram Sabhas but their decisions are not binding on the Sarpanch or secretary to Sarpanch. The government has bypassed the Panchayats by permitting appeals against their decisions. Their appeals can be made to the director of Panchayats and the deputy directors of Panchayats. The mischievous provision is that if the deputy director does not respond within a month permission is deemed to have been given. This has been abused and misused by successive revenue ministers. The beauty of this is that all you have to do is bribe the officials of the Panchayat department not to take any action.
GST HUGE BURDEN
AND a few stray thoughts on the huge burden imposed by the GST on the State. To begin with let us understand what GST means. Before the General Sales Tax (GST) both the Center and State used to levy literally hundreds of taxes on various products. For instance, if you were a manufacturer of cars you have to pay separate sales tax for every item in the car from tyres to glasses to plastic items. You even had to pay entry tax called ctroi to enter the city where you were planning to sell the cars. What GST did was to persuade states and Center to abolish all the taxes and levy tax only on the final product. The manufacturers of the final product were expected to get a set back on the expenditure that they had incurred on the expenses they had incurred. The principle was that the multiple taxes levied by the multiple agencies should be substituted by a single tax which will be levied only on the final consumer product.
To extend our example the GST will be only on the complete car and not on tyres and wheels and other parts. Goa being essentially a consumer state rather than a production state would have benefited greatly from GST. The principle of the GST was that the states will not levy any taxes except for excise on liquor. That out of the central GST the states will get their proportionate shares or the CGST. Unfortunately the entire GST scheme has been a miserable failure. This is because there have been too many rates and it is difficult for a small grocery shop or a supermarket to calculate the GST on their baskets of items. The majority of small retail units have not been paying their GST. Not because they don’t want to pay but because the process is so complicated. So much so the central collection of GST has been less than 50% of the total collection from all taxes like sales tax, luxury tax, etc, before GST was introduced. In the last six months of Center has paid Goa only
200 crore against its share of1,000 crore. The center has already informed the states that it does not have the money to pay GST for the last quarter from January to March. This has left the state with even less resources. The state of affairs is troubling because the government does not get any mining royalty because of the suspension of mining. The closure of Thomas Cook, leading British travel agency, has resulted in a steep drop in charter tourists.
STATE DEEPLY IN DEBT
There are no customers for the shacks on beaches because the season started late due to continuous rain in the months of August and September. To meet even regular expenses like salaries and commitments under social welfare schemes like old age pension scheme and Ladli Laxmi, the State has been borrowing money from the market at very high rates of interest. The total loan burden of the State till February 1, 2020 has exceeded
25,000 crore which is more than the size of its budget.
The State is also affected by the poor economic policies at the Center which has brought down the rate of growth to less than 3%. At the same time the cost of living is touching double digits. With the price of onions above50 even now housewives are still crying. Onion pakoda which is a favorite snack of Goans has disappeared or portions cut down because of the high cost of onions. The price of all vegetables has gone up with the increase in the price of petrol imposing a bigger burden.
The GST is a good idea but badly managed. It is clear that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman does not know anything about finance. This is proved by her latest decision to reduce the amount of duty free daru and cigarettes that can be carried into the country from two liters to one liter. The rumors are that former chairman of ICICI bank Mr Kamat will replace her as finance minister. Neither Narendra Modi nor Amit Shah know anything about economics or for that matter the Constitution.
VEHICLES FINES HIKED
AND a last stray thoughts on the burden on users of the almost 15,000 two-wheelers and four-wheelers because of the increase in Traffic Department fines. The Central government has passed a law which has directed the states to increase the fines on traffic offenses steeply as they attribute deaths due to accidents due to carelessness and lack of fear amongst drivers and riders of two-wheelers. The fine on not wearing a helmet which was
100 is now reportedly1,000. The penalty for more serious offenses such as driving in an intoxicated state is as high as `10,000. On the second offense not only does the fine go but the license is also cancelled. The problem is with a corrupt police, however much you increase the fine a driver can always get away with a lower burden. The increase in fines have not stopped traffic indiscipline but increased the hafta of the traffic police. Among the worst affected are the tourists who rent two-wheelers which are the best and most economical way of travelling around Goa which is full of narrow streets and lanes. Most of those who rent two-wheelers get sub-standard helmets and this aids towards death on the roads. The Center has refused to lower the fees on traffic offenses. There would be less traffic offenses and indeed less traffic if the government improved public transport system.
GOA NEEDS A METRO
The government can start a metro like all major cities have done. They need not even spend on it as private companies would be only too happy to build a metro if are allowed to fix the fare and collect on it. It was repeatedly suggested during the building of Konkan Railway that the railway service should be extended to all major cities and to the tourism belt. The government is not even willing to consider extending bus services up to midnight at least. As it is buses come to a halt particularly in the tourist areas of the coastal belt by 7pm and tourists who want to enjoy a night life are at the mercy of the taxi mafia.