PROTEST: There was a mass protest against the double tracking of the South Western Railway train to Bengaluru via Hospet for the benefit of Jindal factory
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when all NGOs got together to oppose the double-tracking of the South-Western Railway. For a Saturday following the week when the case against Goa Assembly Speaker Rajesh Patnekar for delaying a decision on the disqualification petition in the Supreme Court was postponed again to to November 2, 2020. For a Saturday following the week when Durga puja began with the West Bengal High Court banning the public from erecting and entering various pandals for Durga puja. For a Saturday following the week when both teachers and parents were opposed to the re-opening of down to earth schools. For a Saturday following the week when Sailesh S Shetty, a builder, was arrested for the burning alive of a Salvodar Do Mundo resident Vilhas Nailekar. For a Saturday following the week when Prime Minister Modi declared that although Lockdown 5.0 has ended we will have to continue to be cautious. For a Saturday following the week when the Tablighi delegates from abroad in jail for seven months were released by the Supreme Court.
And a few stray thoughts on mass protests in Goa against the proposal of the South Western Railway to construct double tracks between Goa and Bengaluru. The Konkan Railway only connects Goa to Kerala and does not link it to Karnataka. The South Western Railways pass through major mining areas like Hospet and Bellary where the Jindal factories of steel are located in Karnataka. As Jindal steel and aluminium plants in Karnataka keep expanding they need more and more coal. The Jindals have their own berth at Mormugao Port Trust for the MPT for importing coal for their steel plant and other products in Karnataka. When this coal is downloaded it is transported by rail from the MPT rail yard through the Vasco station to Karnataka.
The present single track is apparently not adequate for meeting the coal transport requirements of the expansion of the Jindal steel plant. The South Western railway passes through the thickly populated villages of Goa like Majorda and Cansaulim.
In fact, in Cansaulim where the feast of the Three Kings is held every year, the single railway track has already divided the villages into two parts. The residence of the late Proto Barbosa who was chief minister of Goa in the early 90s when the Pratapsingh Rane government was toppled, is on the other side of the level crossing through which the train passes. I remember having to wait for a long time till the train crossed when I went to meet Dr Proto Barbosa during the Feast of the Three Kings. The train trucks packed with coal passed through the tourism belt in South Goa and caused huge amounts of the coal dust pollution.
Contrary to the claim of the Railway Authority the double tracking is not meant for the people of Goa and Karnataka but for the benefit of Jindal Steel Company. Immediately after liberation several lakh Kannaddiga-speaking locals from Karnataka travelled to Goa which was facing an acute shortage of trained electricians, plumbers, engineers and even teachers.
When the Indian government started developmental projects in Goa the South Western Railways became the lifeline of the people of Karnataka who wanted to migrate to Goa (presumably Goa then was not as corruption-ridden as Karnataka). Whenever I have travelled by the S W Rail to Hubli and Dharwad to attend functions at Dharwad University, I found the train full of Kannadiggas whose families had settled in Goa.
Though Kannadiggas have lived in Goa for more than 30 to 40 years they have retained their links back home with their villages. Now a number of homes and houses will have to be demolished fully or partially for the double tracking planned between Goa and Bengaluru between for S W Railway. It has been estimated that the railway authorities have acquired 60,177 meters for the doubling of the track. When resident villagers of Majorda and Causaulim through which the new double tracks will go got notices for acquisition of their land to build the tracking they protested angrily. A public hearing was scheduled to be held recently to listen to the objections of the people affected by the double tracking.
Besides the people losing their land and homes due to this project the entire population of South Goa through which the track will pass will be vulnerable to acute coal pollution.
On Monday, October 19, when the Deputy Collector of Vasco Sachin Dessai was to hold a public hearing over 200 people from various NGOs led by Goenkarach Ekvott stormed his office. He was forced to postpone the public hearing till October 27. Locals are arguing that when there is Covid-19 there cannot be public a hearing as a large number of people will gather and they will not be able to maintain the physical distance required under Covid-19 guidelines.
Former MLA Churchill Alemao and former Vasco MLA Jose Filipe had extended their support to people against double tracking.. It is not only doubling of the tracks that the people likely to be affected are protesting. Under the Sagarmala scheme proposed by the Union Minister for Transport & Wastewater many jetties are planned along the banks of the river Sal to store the imported coal, before it gets loaded on the goods carriages of the S W Railway trains.
The single biggest movement of the people of South Goa now is to stop double tracking of the railway line purely for the benefit of the Jindal Group of Companies. This Jindal family is very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi we understand. Presumably, the people of Goa are not.
MAAN KI BAAT
AND a few stray thoughts on Narendra Modis latest Maan Ki Baat where he announced that Lockdown 5.0 had ended. However, in view of the fresh wave of Covid-19 infections in Europe and the United States, he warns that we in India cannot afford to be careless.
Admittedly the Covid-19 pandemic has reached its peak and number of cases are falling sharply in recent past. Even in Goa fresh cases have declined in the last one week. Only 159 new cases were reported on Monday while recoveries were 519 and the deaths down to five. But both doctors and Opposition politicians are pointing out that there has been actually no fall in number of positive cases which has touched more than 500. To attract tourists Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Tourism Minister Babu Azgaonkar are fooling the people. The number of positives depends on the number of tests carried out. Till last week the number of test were more than 3,000, which is why the number of positives were high. With contact tracing the figures went up even higher. Contact tracing is finding out who Covid-19 patients had come into contact with and whether they had contacted the infection. Of the deaths on Monday the most tragic was that of a 32-year-old woman who was a resident of Salvodor do Mundo. The others who succumbed to the infection included an 86- year-old maid from Dona Paula, a 61-year- old man from Siolim, a 70-year-old man from Sanguem and a 62-year-old man from Curca, Bambolim. Surprisingly, four of the five deaths took place at the GMC which is supposed to be better equipped than the e ESI Covid-19 hospital in Margao. When the government claims there was only 159 positive cases on Monday, it is not admitting that it is because only 749 were tested!
This means that of the 1/3rd of people who were tested on Monday, 19 were positive. The government of Goa is playing with the lives of niz goenkar by throwing open Goa to tourists from all parts of the country. In other major cities night clubs and party zones may still be closed, but in Goa it is back to abnormal. Over the weekend all major night clubs like Tito’s and Mambo’s were swinging with virtually no physical distancing in the crowded popular night clubs. Similarly, beaches are now packed with domestic tourists carrying their beer bottles in hand.
If tourists are tested, particularly during the weekend when they come to party in Goa, the number of positives could well be over a 1,000. Goa just does not have the facilities for treating such a large number of Covid-19 patients. So for a change we should listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he tells us to be extra careful during the forthcoming festival season of Deepavali, Dussehra and Durga Puja.
DUSSEHRA IS HERE!
AND a few stray thoughts on the festive season which has started with the first day Dussehra on October 16. Many families return to their family village homes during the Navratri days because this is the traditional custom. Navratri and Dussehra are celebrated in different ways by the people of different states. Dussehra to most in south India and parts of the north India symbolizes the return of Lord Ram after defeating Ravan and rescuing Sita.
In Goa for instance the last day of Dussehra is devoted to the burning of Narkasur rather than Lord Ram, according to the Sanatan Sanstha. Which is partly true because the biggest event during the 10-day Dussehra festival is the burning of the effigy of Narkasur. Even the late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar used to sponsor the erection of a huge Narkasur near the Mahalaxmi temple as he believed it was lucky for him, as he had won his first election from Panjim because of the people of Mala. However this year due to Covid-19 the burning of Narkasur and Narkasur competitions have been banned.
In the main temples of Goa like the Shantadurga and Mangeshi the goddess is dressed in different costumes on every one of the ten days. This time the public or janata will not be permitted into the temples to take darshan of the goddess. Instead it will be a virtual darshan as the temple committees have tied up with cable operators for transmission of the closed celebration. Some temples have even employed courier services to deliver the prasad to members of the community at home. The large community of Gujaratis of Goa used to celebrate Navratri every year with garba and dandiya ras dancing. The last day witnessed disco dandiya sponsored primarily by alleged matka king Yatin Parikh who owns several little collection outlets on 18 June Road.
A grand celebration of dandiya ras dancing used to take place at the Taleigao Community Hall and women across all age groups attired in special gagra-choli outfits made a late evening out of it, virtually dancing away on the floor with devotion as social frenzy. This year all this will have to be given a pass for the fear of Covid-19 is greater than the joy of Navratri-Dussehra celebrations.
The people of West Bengal have got the biggest shock courtesy Chief Minister Mamta didi. Durga puja is the biggest festival of West Bengal. On the occasion of Durga Puja hundreds of goats are slaughted for the blood-thirsty, non-vegetarian goddess. Politicians competed with one another in sponsoring huge Durga pandal, as in the case of Sarvajanik Ganesh festival in Maharashtra and particularly in Mumbai.
Mamta, like Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, has taken the stand of
“Bhivpachi kaich garaz na!” But the High Court of West Bengal did not agree with Mamta didi. It has banned the public from visiting Durga Puja pandal celebrations.
Historically, the Dusshera-Diwali season is the peak of the peak festival season the country over and also abroad wherever there are large Hindu communities. It’s a time of boom for goldsmiths and automobile manufacturers. And of course everyone purchases new clothes for the family.
Alas, this year’s festive season most are planning to sit behind closed doors and do their darshan of Durga goddess on their smart phone or their television screens. Covid-19 has conquered even the fierce goddess of the Hindu pantheon of goddesses, Durga, and the peace-loving goddess Shanta Durga of Goa.
AND a few stray thought on the law and order situation collapsing in Goa. This is dramatized by the burning alive of social activist Vikas Methar of Salvador do Mundo who objected to the illegal construction of Sailesh Shetty. The builder is also alleged to have been involved in supplying drugs to Bollywood film stars as his name cropped up in the Narcotic Bureau and CBI’s investigations in the tragic Sushant Singh Rajput mystery suicide, recently.
Allegedly, Vikas was known to the very active social activist who was protesting against encroachments of private lands by Sailesh Shetty. Vikas has also complained to RERA, which is the Central Regulatory Body on construction work. It is alleged that this builder Sailesh Shetty gave a supari, meaning a contract to murder thorn in his flesh protestor Vikas.
The Porvorim police have arrested four of the people who poured kerosene on Methar and set him on fire in broad daylight. The connection with Shetty was established when it was discovered the car used by the killers executing the supari belonged to Sailesh Shetty.
AND a last stray thought on parents and teachers opposing the re-opening of schools. While the CM was keen on opening schools come October 15 and under Unlock 5.0 the directive was to re-open schools, in Goa the parents and management are not willing to take risk. Pramod Sawant is not willing to take a decision even though under central guidelines schools are allowed to open after October 15. If the second term does not commence in November after the Diwali holidays there will be mass promotions! From the 1st to 8th standards promotions will be based on internal assessment. Some schools have started guidance classes for class 10 and 11. Science students are also allowed to attend practicals. The only State which physically opened schools from 9am to 12noon is the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi. Meanwhile parents are worried that their kids will find pornography videos to watch instead of learning anything useful during online classes.