OVER RULED: The Ministry of Forest & Environment has ignored protests and diverted 140 hectares of land from the Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary for the double tracking project of the South Western Railway. Fresh trees can be planted to replace those destroyed. How will MOEF replace the animals which will be affected by the double tracking throughout the wildlife sanctuary?
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court rapped the State government for undermining democracy. For a Saturday following the week when both Utpal Parrikar and Siddharth Kunkoliekar decided to get involved in the Corporation of the City of Panaji election. For a Saturday following the week when there was total confusion over the new vaccination programme for senior citizens and people above 45 years with co-morbidities. For a Saturday following the week when the Union Ministry of Environment & Forest (MOEF) permitted the diversion of 140 hectares in the Mollem sanctuary for the double tracking. For a Saturday following the week when a Delhi sessions judge observed that “from a hundred rabbits you can’t make a horse.”
AND a few stray thoughts on the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court questioning the manner in which the election schedule has been announced. Ironically, both the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court and the State government are claiming that they are trying to defend democracy. The constitutional directive is that the delimitation of wards should be done by the State Election Commission. Delimitation means the reservations of seats for various categories .The State Election Commission conducts Civic, Panchayat and Zila Parishad polls. The Central Election Commission has laid down rules for the proportion of wards that should be reserved for the various categories like women, scheduled and backward tribes and other backward classes.
The Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court ruled that the State Election Commission cannot blindly accept the reservations dictated by the Director of Municipal Administration (DMA). The DMA is not the competent authority to decide on reservations. The High Court on Monday set aside the order on elections in Margao, Sanguem, Quepem, Mormugoa and Mapusa.
This was done on the grounds that the reservations for various categories had not been done as per constitutional directives. The High Court also slammed the State Election Commission for blindly accepting the decision of the DMA on the direction of the government. The Chief Minister, Pramod Sawant, has decided to move the Supreme Court against the orders of the Goa Bench. The Goa Bench had stated in its verdict “fairness in action is the benchmark in electoral matters…When our attention is invited to the action of the DMA and the conduct of the State Election Commission as a silent spectator, while in fact it was expected to act and live up to the role conferred by the Constitution in ensuring free and fair elections. We are not expected to be oblivious to the situations which have been brought to our notice.”
On the other hand the State government is claiming that the courts cannot interfere with democratic process like elections. The State has moved the Supreme Court against the Goa Bench order with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant claiming “We are trying to establish democracy.” This is absurd as the CM and the BJP government are to the contrary murdering democracy by taking arbitrary decisions on reservations.
In many of the civic bodies in which the elections has been stopped the representation for women is less than 1/3rd of the wards mandated by the Election Commission. The State Advocate General Devidas Pangam is not right when he claims that “the courts cannot stall the democratic process like this.” Pangam also claimed that article 243 ZG of the Constitution imposes a complete ban on courts interfering in the election process. This is true only if there are no irregularities in following the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission (EC) and endorsed by the SC.
Admittedly, there is a separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Legislature. But this is subject to the Constitutional rules being followed. What has happened in Goa is a dangerous precedent. If the State government is permitted to decide on reservations in violation of the guidelines, governments will do anything they want to win elections. In Muslim majority areas, for instance, they may decide that only schedule tribe candidates can contest. No Muslim will be able to contest because there are no schedule tribes amongst the Muslims. The SC is unlikely to reverse the judgement of the Goa Bench headed by Justice M S Sonak and Bharati Dangre.
UTPAL AGAINST BABUSH
AND a few stray thoughts on the son of the late Manohar Parrikar, Utpal Parrikar, getting involved in the forthcoming CCP elections. A large number of BJP candidates have been denied tickets to contest the CCP election by Babush Monserrate. Historically, there used to be a contest between the BJP and Babush panels, which used to win alternatively depending on who the Furtado couple of Ruth and Surendra supported. In almost every election to the CCP both the BJP panel and the Babush panel used to get 14 seats each. Ruth and Surendra Furtado contesting as Independents and got two seats. Whether Babush formed the government or the BJP formed the government depended on whom the Furtados supported, which made it 16-14.
While Parrikar was alive the Furtado couple supported the BJP and not Babush. After Parrikar’s death they switched their loyalty to Babush. But in the last election Babush Monserrate refused to let Surendra be the Mayor and instead chose Uday Madkaikar. This time around apparently Babush wants to make his son Rohit the Mayor. There is strong opposition to this from Utpal Parrikar and Siddharth Kunkoleikar who was former MLA of Panaji. They have decided to put up independent candidates against the BJP candidates. The third factor of course is the Surendra group which now called itself “We the people” which has decided to form a panel to contest against the Babush candidates.
So this time Babush may not be able to win the CCP election and make his son the mayor. The BJP vote will be split between supporters of the official BJP candidates selected by Babush and the rebel BJP candidates supported by Utpal Parrikar. In addition the candidates selected by Surendra will also be in the fray. So the next CCP will in all probability be a khichdi with no group getting a majority. The BJP represented by Babush will again engage in horse trading to buy over the elected candidates supported by Utpal. Panaji is about to witness the councillor market or councillor kharidhi yatra.
MOLLEM LAND DIVERTED
AND a few stray thoughts on the decision of the Union Minister of Environment and Forests (MOEF) Prakash Javadekar, who has ordered diversion of 140 hectares of land in the Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary for double tracking the South Western Railway for the benefit of Gautam Adani. The double tracking project is being undertaken primarily to transport huge quantities of coal from the MPT to Hospet in Karnataka where Gautam Adani and Sajan Jindal have their factories and thermal power stations. Before the Zila Parishad elections, Pramod Sawant, had also opposed the double tracking project. But after the BJP swept the Zila Parishad the CM changed his mind. Pramod Sawant insisted that the three ecologically damaging projects were for the benefit of Goa.
It is possible that Goa may benefit from the setting up of the power transmitter in Mollem as it does not have any independent sources of power. But the double tracking will not benefit Goa in any way. The traffic between Goa and Bengaluru has not increased. Most of the migrants from Karnataka have settled permanently in Goa and seldom go back to their village in their home state. Normally, double tracking is done when there is a big increase in passenger traffic.
The other reason why double tracking is done is because the movement of cargo has increased beyond the capacity of the single line. The background to the double tracking in Goa is that the Gujarati industrialist Gautam Adani has leased a huge coal reserve in Australia. All the coal from the Australian reserve is expected to be shipped to the MPT. From the MPT it will be transported by a rail or trucks to Bellary and Hospet for the Jindal steel plant and the Adani thermal power station. There are very few units in Goa which use coal.
There is still a case pending against the now BJP minister Mauvin Godinho for supplying concessional power in violation of the Cabinet decision. Interestingly, the complaint against Mauvin was made by the then BJP CM the late Manohar Parrikar. The case is still pending and Mauvin has joined the BJP to see if he can get out of the case. Parrikar, in fact, tried to withdraw the case but was not able to do so because senior Rane was the witness and confirmed that Mauvin had defied the Cabinet and violated the rules. Chief Minister Sawant is now claiming that he will ask the railways to use only covered wagons which have a metal ceiling. The MOEF has also laid down conditions for the double tracking. It has stipulated that the trees should be cut under the supervision of the Forest department. That double the number of trees should be planted to replace the trees cut. If there is no space for planting so many trees, than they can be planted elsewhere.
There is an absurd law called Compensatory Tree Planting. This applies to the ore mining industry also. All the mines have contributed a percentage to the reforestation scheme. Though there is a huge amount lying with the Centre very little compensatory tree planting has been done. The rule is stupid because if there is not enough space in Goa for compensatory tree planting, they can be planted in Karnataka. So Karnataka gets both the trees and the coal and Goa is the victim.
It was this absurd decision of the MOEF which has provoked Goenche Awaaz to form a political party all on its own to contest the election. The Goenche Awaaz has realised that the BJP government at the Centre and in the states does not bother about citizens’ protests. This is evident from the fact that they have not listened to the farmers from Punjab who have been protesting in the bitter Delhi cold for more than a year. What hope is there of this government listening to protests in Goa?
AND a few stray thoughts on the confusion over the second phase of the vaccination programme. It is clear that Dr Jagdish Kakodkar of the Preventive Medicine Department has no idea how to get senior citizens and those who are over 45 years with morbidities to take the vaccine. The state has targeted 1.5 lakh senior citizens in addition to 1.5 lakh people above 45 years with health problems. The GMC has listed one of the places where senior citizens could get their vaccines. When they went to the GMC they found the Covid-19 department closed. To be eligible for the vaccine, the beneficiaries have to register on the CoWin app. Most senior citizens, including me, don’t even know what an app is let alone how to register for the vaccine! The majority of senior citizens keen to take the vaccine could not do so because they could not register! Of the three lakh people entitled to receive the vaccine less than 1,000 have got it so far. The government claims that the vaccines are available and that the infrastructure has been created for administering the vaccine. Which is not true as most Primary Health Centres work only for limited hours and are not interested in adding to their work burden. Even testing is not done properly by the Urban Health Centre in Panaji. The government has still not announced which private hospitals have been identified for giving the vaccine.
Those who opt for a private hospital will have to pay Rs500 for the two doses of vaccine. Of this the cost of the vaccine is Rs 300 and out of this Rs200 is given to the hospital for doing the vaccinations. If everyone finds it easier to go to the private hospital, the hospital will rake in a considerable amount, considering that there are three lakh people who are entitled to take the vaccine. There has to be a system where senior citizens and others can register on the spot and get their vaccine.
RABBITS AND HORSES
AND a last stray thought on the independence displayed by even the metropolitan courts in New Delhi. It may be recalled Judge Dharmendra Rana had granted bail to the Bengaluru activist Disha Ravi, insisting that there was no evidence of sedition. Similarly we have another case in which Delhi Magistrate Judge Amitabh Rawat discharged two men from the charge of attempted murder in a protest case. The additional sessions judge made fun of the police pointing out that a “100 suspicions don’t make proof.”
The implication being that the police cannot go about framing charges without any evidence. The prosecution had claimed that Babu and Indira were part of an armed unlawful assembly which was involved in a riot on February 25, 2020. In response the judge commented “Where is Rahul? The statement is not on record. The state is …saying police never saw Rahul. That being the case who is going to say who shot whom and by whom and where. Even the gun shot injury has not been established. From a 100 rabbits you cannot make a horse.” The learned judge was quoting from the famous Russian author Fydor Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment” where in an incident it was stated that a 100 suspicions do not make for proof.