DEVOTED: Goans and crew of cruise ship `Angriya’ have decided to help rescue other stranded Goan and Indian sailors instead of enjoying or enduring the misery of Goa in lockdown
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when corruption seems to be spreading faster than the novel coronavirus. For a Saturday following the week when though Goa is reportedly coronavirus free it is still not willing to open up for people from Karnataka and Maharashtra. For a Saturday following the week when finally the first batch of seafarers of Goan origin returned to their home state Goa. For a Saturday following the week when the non-resident Goans in the Gulf and other countries abroad seem to be passing through very bad times. For a Saturday following the week when the Oriental Bank of Commerce changed its name to Punjab National Bank.
AND a few stray thoughts on corruption spreading very rapidly although the government claims that it has eliminated the novel coronavirus infection in Goa at least. The lockdown may have reduced the speed of transmission of coronavirus but has increased the speed of corruption in the state. The policemen posted to prevent citizens from breaking lockdown rules and regulations are using the lockdown to extort hafta from helpless “caged” citizens.
If you are found outside on the street or even seated on a garden bench some policeman may harass you to go home. Particularly if you are male, they literally chase you away and at the process demand a bribe for not arresting you for violating some lockdown rule real or fake. According to lockdown rules you are expected to stay home except for buying essential commodities. In practice a small window was created in the morning and the evening to enable people to shop for their daily essentials like bread, milk, vegetables.
Since all regular shops were shut lines of vendors sprang up mostly along the 60 Ft road build by Babush Monseratte down Taleigao, all selling local gauti vegetables, coconut, fruit, flowers. Though they are not licensed some also sell groceries and the timing during which you could sell them depended on how much you could bribe the police. As far as the “shops” that sprang up early in the morning near Caculo Mall for the sale of milk and newspapers, this area was allegedly under the control of one Santosh Amonkar claiming to be a supervisor in the Corporation of the City of Panaji. Enquiries with the CCP confirmed that they have not granted any permission to any of their staff members to supervise illegal pavement sales. CCP Commissioner Sanjit Rodrigues has become so arrogant that he does not even answer my calls. Perfectly bona fide permitted vendors who have been harassed for bribes have no choice but to file a police complaint against Santosh Amonkar. Police also harass citizens who do not wear masks in their hurry to get their shopping done and get home. Fortunately the fine for being caught without a mask in public has come down to Rs100. Earlier when it was Rs1,000 police used to let you go after collecting a fat bribe.
The worse thing about the lockdown is that the lathi has been handed over to corrupt constables. So there is huge harassment going on in keeping with the popular Hindi proverb “Jiski lathi, uski bhais” (power belongs to who has a stick).
AND a few stray thoughts on Chief Minister Pramod Sawant seeking a further lockdown extension. This is absurd since the CM claims that Goa has overcome the coronavirus infection epidemic or rather contained it brilliantly. If there are no coronavirus positive cases leave alone deaths due to COVID-19, why the need for a lockdown extension? The even greater damage that Pramod Sawant is proposing is a lockdown on all transport between Goa and its neighbouring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Surely he knows that all essential items such as milk, eggs, vegetables, fruit, not to mention poultry and beef that Goa needs, comes from Belgavi or Belgaum. If there is transportation lockdown between Karnataka and Goa how will Goa get its requirement of essential goods. Indeed, Sawant’s excuse for extending the lockdown in Goa is the fact that both Karnataka and Maharashtra are very seriously COVID-19 affected states. In fact Maharashtra heads the country both in the number of positive cases and deaths. Similarly, there are a large number of COVID-19 positive cases in Karnataka. This would justify a lockdown in Karnataka and Maharashtra but does not offer any justification for extending the lockdown in Goa. Ironically, even as Sawant talks about extending the lockdown, he has also been relaxing it!
For instance over the last few days the number of grocery shops and other stores permitted to open has increased. Except that the CM adamantly refused to permit the opening of hair salons and beauty parlours. May be Pramod Sawant is waiting for his super guru Narendra Modi to shave off his beard! Pramod Sawant has also relaxed transportation within the state and has permitted both government offices and private companies to resume functioning. Except that those who are back at work have no choice but to use Kadamba buses service to commute to work and return home.
But as in government offices even in buses only one-third of the capacity of space may be used. The Chief Minister is so obsessed with maintaining social distancing that only one passenger is permitted to sit on a double seat in a bus. So in rows of seats only four to five passengers may sit. The option of using your own private transport even if you are an officer or a senior manager has become even more complicated. Gone are the days when you could go shopping with your wife and kids. This is because only two people may occupy a car, one person in front at the wheel and another on the back seat. This is again to ensure the stipulation of one meter physical distance between driver and back seat passengers.
The popular means of transportation in Goa is the two- wheeler. Given that public transport whether it is Kadamba or private public buses are so unreliable, every family needs a two-wheeler for every member of the family. Or at least enough two-wheelers so that two family members can use them. But under the Pramod Sawant rules nobody can seat pillion or the back seat of a two-wheeler. Which will only force people to buy even more two-wheelers so that both husband and wife may have their own two-wheeler.
We appreciate the concern of the Chief Minister about sustaining Goa’s record as a COVID-19 free state. But what is the use of permitting offices and factories to open if it becomes so difficult for aam janata to go to work? It becomes even more complicated as only one-third of the employees of a government department or a private factory can go to work to maintain social distancing. So we have this ridiculous situation in which one-third if government clerks report to work every day officers also come to work on alternate days.
So if you want any work down it may take you one to two weeks to get a file cleared. The clerk has to put up the file but will not be around if the officer wants any explanations. The officer can sign and clear the file but will have to wait for another two days if the clerk has made a mistake. Sawant has not relaxed work in the State but made it so relaxed that no work is done. We do not know whether the Chief Minister himself works six days a week or only two days a week being one-third of the working days in the week.
AND a few stray thoughts on when finally the first batch of seafarers cross the Goa border and return to amchye Goem. Though there have been reports for weeks that the seafarers would be back only recently they were actually discharged from the
Marella Discovery’ which carried the largest number of Goan sailors, namely on Monday April 27, 2020. It was only on Tuesday that the seafarers got into Maharashtra registered chartered buses and came back to Goa by road. Consequent to the social distancing paranoia only 20 passengers travelled in each bus. It was by no means a smooth journey for the returning seafarers. It was far more bumpy than what they are probably used while sailing the high seas. At the Patradevi checkpost their travel documents were checked and permission given to enter Goa.
The sailors were not allowed to go home to their family even after they crossed into Goa. They were directly taken to Ginger Hotel at Patto and for a quarantine lockdown of 14 days. It is not clear whether during these 14-day quarantine family members of the seafarers would be permitted to visit them and what the modalities are. Perhaps if spouse or children visit their papa they too would be subject to quarantine for 14 days! Which is why the Goan sailors ofAngriya’ have decided they are better off at sea than in Goa. The sailors of `Angriya’ which transports passengers from Mumbai to Goa and vice versa have volunteered to stay at sea to rescue other seafarers in requiring emergency pick-ups.
AND a few stray thoughts on the misery of non-resident Goans, particularly those working in the Gulf. As in other parts of the world business and trade has come to a halt in most parts of the Gulf. The most flourishing industry in the Gulf was the construction industry and villas and luxury homes were being built for the bold and the beautiful, such as the top film stars of India. Indeed, even as we write, Sanjay Dutt is separated from his family because he is lockdowned in Dubai. May be Sanjay Dutt considered it as an extension of all the time he spent in jail when he was arrested for the being in possession of AK47 guns during the Bomb blast in Mumbai.
Most of the shops and chai-shops catering to Indians and Goans working in the Gulf are run by Goans and Keralites. Due to the lockdown in Dubai the bulk of Indian employees and Goans have lost their jobs. They do not know when the lockdown will end and if they will get back their jobs. Indeed, this is the first time ever in over a 100 years that nobody was permitted to perform the Hajj as Mecca and Madina were shut down. On the same principle that large groups of people should not be allowed to come together to pick up or spread COVID-19. Physical distance is strictly required to prevent spread of coronavirus pandemic. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 Goans working in the Gulf countries alone.
BESIDES those working in the Gulf there are thousands of Indians and Goan living in UK and Europe. The majority of the younger residents of Goa Velha and Siridao have shifted to Paris. It is estimated that over five lakh Goans work in the UK on Portuguese passports. Following BREXIT it is not known if Goans in the UK on Portuguese passport will have to return to Portugal. Having given up their Portuguese passport they are no longer Indians and may not be able to return to their motherland.
In any case whether stranded in the Gulf or the UK they will have to go through the tiresome business of being quarantined and tested for COVID-19 every time they leave or return to any country. Even as the Gulf Goans want to return to India they will have to be quarantined to ensure that they are not bringing any coronavirus back with them. The ghar wapasi of Goans working or settled abroad will only add to the already severe unemployment problem in the country.
OBC-PUNJAB NATIONAL BANK
AND a last stray thought on the Oriental Bank of Commerce (OBC) being merged with Punjab National Bank (PNB). We have had an account both in our personal capacity and in the name of our company Goan Observer Pvt Ltd at the OBC Bank at Miramar branch for the last 15 years. It is one of the personal branches of the bank which means it is small and intimate with very friendly and co-operative staff. For instance the OBC at Miramar has a staff of only six in the normal course except that because of the lockdown these days only two of the six attend work daily.
The OBC Miramar branch is considered the cleanest of the bank’s branches elsewhere. New senior manager Siddhartha Sinha, who belongs to the OBC cadre, told me proudly that it is the only branch of the bank that he has worked in which has zero non-performing assets. Which effectively means that there were no chor amongst the OBC’s account holders. This is in sharp contrast to the account holders of the PNB which is considered among the most corrupt banks in the country.
It is the PNB which permitted itself to be looted to the extent of more than Rs10,000 crore by Nirav Modi, the emperor of diamonds, and his associate Mehul Chinubhai Choksi. Many of the accountholders of the OBC and particularly of the Miramar Branch, are not happy with the OBC merger with PNB. The major consolation is that OBC will retain its own staff and will not be forced to accommodate PNB staff. Moreover OBC will be allowed to follow its own policies when it comes to lending as it has been doing all this years and will not have to adopt the corrupt practises of the PNB.
So far though the merger was affective April 1, 2020 the board has not changed. Whether we will maintain our accounts with the OBC or shift them will depend on its performance as PNB!