FUEL PROTEST: To protest against the ever increasing prices of diesel and petroleum Mahila Congress President Pratima Coutinho held a mock funeral of her two-wheeler on her stretcher
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when I belatedly realised on my 75th birthday that my life was full of missed opportunities. For a Saturday following the week when thought I knew at least 500 people with a net worth of
500 crore or more, but I cannot find even one of them willing to even give me a fixed deposit of1crore to keep the Goan Observer alive and kicking for a few more years. For a Saturday following the week when I became convinced that Pratima Coutinho, the Congress Mahila president, is a most innovative protestor. For a Saturday following the week when it appeared that the Legislative Assembly of Goa would be converted into a quarantine zone for our 40 honourable MLAs. For a Saturday following the week when there was fears that Goa will run short of doctors and nurses considering the rapid increase in Covid-19 patients.
And a few stray thoughts on my conviction that my life has been full of missed opportunities. The biggest burden that I have had to bear is that I was taught to be honest. Even worse, when I was in my late teens I was strongly influenced by Marxism. As a journalist for 50 years I could have easily made
50 crore or more if I had bent the rules without breaking them. These were not rules imposed by the various organisations I worked for but those that I imposed on myself.
I discovered that journalism is a profession which offered enormous opportunity to make money within a month of joining the Financial Express way back in 1970. Possibly because there was a shortage of reporters I was asked to interview the owner of popular face cream “Afghan Snow.” The owner was one Mr Patanwala who must have been an early bird for he gave me an appointment at 9am in the morning.
I happened to be working continuous night shifts those days which got over only by 3am or 4am. Since it did not make any sense to go back home to Bandra and come back by 9am, I went for the appointment in Byculla which was only ten kilometres from the office, in the same clothes I had worn in the office. Those days either because I had no money or because of my Marxist ideology I used to wear only faded jeans and loose purple kurta. I of course never used to comb my hair.
I arrived at the factory for the appointment looking like a migrant worker. The watchman at the gate who was much better dressed then me would not let me into the building. When I managed to persuade him that I really had an appointment with his boss he called up Mr Patanwala’s secretary. She came to the gate to see who was creating a nuisance at the gate. It took a lot of dadagiri on my part to convince her that I really had an appointment with her boss.
By that time Managing Director Patanwala himself came he identified me with a warm hug and invited me to his office. I learnt then that businessmen were not interested in how journalists dressed or looked but only concerned with the publicity they would get. At the end of the interview he offered me two large cartons ofAfghan Snow’ each of which contained 24 bottles. I laughed and told him what would I do with
Afghan Snow.’ Then to my surprise and horror he put10,000 in a cover and gave it to me. I rejected it angrily telling him that I was not amongst the media persons who took bribes.
Subsequently I attended hundreds of press conferences and the announcement of the results of profits of some of the biggest companies. These were held over lavish lunches and dinners in 5-star and 7-star hotels in Mumbai. When the media finally left they were given a present as a goodwill gesture. Usually presents were flasks or containers to keep food warm, or calendars, clocks, diaries, etc. When some journalists started complaining they were tired of getting the same gifts again and again, some public relations managers used to discreetly slip in to the present an envelope of cash or gift voucher.
I recall the dinner following the announcement of the first public issue of shares of the Reliance Group. Everyone from the media from peon to sub-editors and reporters to proof readers and even news editors were invited. All got a suit length or an expensive silk saree, or a bottle of the most expensive Scotch and hamper of sweets or cakes. I know media persons who sold off their Scotch bottles at `2,000 per bottle.
AND a few stray thoughts on my resentment over the fact that I know at least 500 people in Goa who have a net worth of at least
100 crore or more. This includes politicians, businessmen and even bureaucrats working for various remunerative government departments. It was routine for the staff of the Public Works Department from chief engineer to cashier to demand bribes. You could not get a contract for even repairing potholes on roads without offering kickbacks to 30 or 40 government employees. The engineer who was awarding the contracts would claim that he was collecting not on his own behalf but on behalf of his bosses which included chief engineer and minister in charge of the concerned department. Even after a project was over the contractor has to bribe the cashier to hand over the cheque meant for him.
Which is one of the reasons why everybody wants a government servant’s job and the amount you have to pay for the job depends on how much bribes you can pay for a particular post. Not surprisingly posts of police inspector, excise inspector, sales tax inspector or any other post such as those in Town & Country Planning Department are the most expensive. I could have made money myself because during the course of my media career in Goa I facilitated hundreds of people to get a job. Without having to pay a paisa and even the mantri did not want to risk collecting money from a request candidate courtesy an editor or journalist. They would always be a price in terms of publicity or keeping quiet about the corruption engaged in by the minister himself.
Just to give an example, on the eve of every election ministers and sitting MLAs used to gift Shakti water tanks to colonies and buildings for storing water. I recall owner Blaze Costabir complaining that he had not been paid for many months. He must have been worried because if the concerned MLA or minister who ordered the Shakti tanks lost in the elections he would not be paid at all!
I could have made big money when I recommended loans to my business friends from Economic Development Corporation (EDC). I recall getting a huge loan for a close friend who had decided to build a hotel on a family property in Bambolim. I happened to be very friendly with the late JC Almeida who was then the managing director of the EDC. He very promptly approved the loan which ran into several lakh if not crore within a very short period of time. In the normal course my friend Vero Nunes, who was then Goa’s table tennis champion, would have had to pay very heavy bribes and wait for a long time. Ironically, I do not recall Vero Nunes coming to my help even when I was seriously ill after I was beaten up allegedly by agents of the former Speaker Dayanand Narvekar by the Rudolf gang.
But why blame Vero when my own employers did not part with a single paise of the several lakh rupees
I had to spend for hospitalization and medicine post my beating-up in 1989 while editor of the Heraldo! When it was decided by a top neurologist in India that I could only be treated in London it was not my employers but the people of Goa who contributed5 lakh or more for my fare to go to London for treatment. In London itself I was fortunately looked after by my British film director friend Kenneth Griffith whom I had met when he was editing a film on Jawaharlal Nehru for the Indian government.
Similarly there are many other politicians and business friends whom I have helped, sometimes even risking my life. I recall bringing out anti-BJP as anti-Parrikar supplements at the request of Digambar Kamat in collaboration with Datta Naik of Monginis for both the 2000 and the 2005 Assembly Election. But when I asked Digambar either to take over the Goan Observer or invest a few lakh to help us deal with a cash flow problem there has been no response so far.
All my political, industrial and bureaucratic friends are in the crorepati category. This includes officials of the Goa Civil Service who made huge amounts of money at the expense of the common man. But when it comes to returning favors you cannot even get a reply to you messages. There are of course a few honorable exceptions like Dattaraj Salgaokar and Mini and Cesar Menezes. Amongst the most generous of Goa’s industrialists has always been Nana Bandekar who never says no, till the recent lockdown when he himself was badly affected.
I do not know whether the moral of the story is that when opportunity knocks at your door, do not ask him to go away. Take full advantage of it. If you anybody would like to help keep the Goan Observer alive till the 2022 Assembly elections, at least give the company
10 lakhs so that it can survive till the over7 lakh dues from the public and the private sector are finally paid to us.
AND a few stray thoughts on my conviction that Pratima Coutinho, president of the Congress Mahila Wing, is a most innovative protester and leader of the Congress party. Besides Reginaldo Lourenco who is the Curtorim MLA, it is only Pratima Coutinho who holds up a torch of dissent against the BJP in Goa and the country. Of Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the UK, it was said that she was the only man in her cabinet. Not referring to her gender but guts in taking bold decisions. Something is very seriously wrong with the Congress Party which has remained silent on the sins of omission and commission of the BJP and its ministers.
The price of petroleum and diesel have been in recent years linked directly by the public sector petroleum companies like Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan petroleum with the international price of crude. Crude is the raw material imported primarily from the Gulf along with cooking gas imported from Saudi Arabia on which Indian depends for its fuel requirements. Although the prices of crude have been falling drastically in the international market and even dropped to zero level, the price of diesel and petrol in India has continued to increase dramatically almost every day!
During the last one month alone the price of petrol and diesel have been raised 21 times. To add to the agony of citizens and making nonsense of the late Manohar Parrikar’s Grah Adhaar scheme the price of cooking gas has been increased to `620 for the subsidized domestic cylinder. Though the prices have been increased the subsidy which used to be directly credited into the account of the gas card holder, have not been deposited for the last two months. It took the fearless Pratima to lead an unique and innovative protest by taking out a funeral of a scooter. Pratima Coutinho has carried out several protests even when her colleagues and seniors in the Congress Party have remained silent.
AND a last stray thoughts on fears that Goa will run short of not only hospital beds but even doctors and paramedical staff to treat Covid-19 patients. Due to the speed with which the infection is spreading with an average of a 100 cases daily, the ESIS hospital in Margao is houseful. There are no beds to accommodate any of the patients whose test reports are awaited. There also appears to be a shortage of doctors. The Covid-19 epidemic does not require superspecialists and can be treated by any doctor with an MD in medicine. Though the GMC has a large Department of Medicine with six or eight units each headed by a consultant, not many of them are keen on attending to Covid-19 patients. HOD of Medicine Dr Edwin Gomes who spent 98 days continuously at the ESIS hospital has been allowed to take a 14-day break. His request for a minimum break of at least one month has been rejected by Health Minister Vishwajit Rane. Treating Covid-19 patients is a very difficult job because it requires all staff ranging from doctors to nurses and even ward boys, to wear disposable Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). This is made of special plastic material which is totally leak proof for virus transfer from patients to medical team treating them. Covid-19 is so highly infectious that even a single tiny droplet penetrating a PPE can infect the doctor. Perhaps because of the poor quality of PPEs supplied to them already four doctors have been infected by Covid-19.
Private hospitals and particularly Manipal Hospital are very keen on being permitted to treat Covid-19 patients because of the huge profits involved. There are instances of Covid-19 patients being billed as much as
16 to20 lakh for a week’s stay in a private hospital. Over 30% of the cost is towards PPEs which have to be disposed every six hours. If PPEs are used for each patient per day and all the treating staff including doctors, nurses and even ward boys have to compulsorily wear them, you can imagine how the cost can keep shooting up. The bill can escalate further if patients turn serious and have to be put on a ventilator which requires them to be shifted to the ICU, which itself charges a minimum of `10,000 a day separately.