NO JOSH: Crores of rupees have been wasted on the prestigious Atal Setu bridge, the pet project of the late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. The bridge was a study in potholes within days of inauguration! Contrary to the late Manohar Parrikar’s claim the Atal Setu is losing its hosh and josh.
By Rajan Narayan
The BJP, constantly boasting about how it has reduced congestion on the Mandovi Bridge by building a third towering bridge Atal Setu over the Mandovi, cannot explain why potholes surfaced even before the completion of the bridge and why it gets flooded with a little rainfall!
UNION Minister for Transport & Waterways Nitin Gadkari remarked recently that because Goa was a small state, it could not afford to undertake huge infrastructure projects. This, however, did not deter former Defence Minister of India and chief minister of Goa, the late Manohar Parrikar.
Perhaps the IIT engineer in Parrikar felt that he should think big. Roti, kapada aur makaan for the poorer class of Goans was not a subject worthy of his exclusive attention. Manohar Parrikar’s mania with mega-projects began during his first tenure as chief minister in the year 2003 with building the infrastructure for Goa’s first International Film Festival of India. Then as now, the BJP was in power at the Centre.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister and Sushma Swaraj was the minister for information and broadcasting. Manohar Parrikar in his obsession with gigantism wooed Sushma Swaraj into making Goa the permanent venue for IFFI. Once she agreed, Manohar Parrikar went into a frenzy of activity to get the infrastructure ready for the first edition of the IIFI in Goa.
Goa did not have large auditoriums or theatre complex suitable for holding a prestigious event of this scale. However, this did not discourage Manohar Parrikar. A background portion of the handsome old premises of the old GMC in Panaji fronting the river Mandovi was demolished to accommodate the INOX multiplex.
In the normal course multiplexes are usually built by the private sector. But Goa is a unique example of the State government willing to spend crores for the construction of a four-screen multiplex for IFFI. The historical and imposing building of the old Goa Medical College was standing empty having long since shifted out to the present complex at Bambolim. So the grand empty spaces of the old GMC in Panjim was taken over by the Directorate of Film Festivals to set up the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG).
IFFI ON A ROLL
MANOHAR Parrikar was not content with hosting IFFI and making Goa a permanent venue for it. He was aware of the fact that there may be public resentment for ordinary Goans would not be eligible to see the hundreds of international and Indian films screened at IFFI and that it would be largely restricted to the international and national film fraternity and the films would be seen by paying delegates and media people. Both the national media and local media would be in attendance for the cinema personalities invited for IFFI opening and closing ceremonies.
So not let Goans feel left out the ESG organised screenings and other entertainment events for the aam aadmi at the Aivao village grounds where the incomplete water sports complex was located. Screenings of films were also organised at various open-air venues, not only in Panjim but at the park at Altinho and Miramar beaches and other parts of the state up north and down south. In his desperation attempt to to find adequate space for creating the infrastructure for IFFI the dictatorial Manohar Parrikar even razed the first and only football stadium built by Dayanand Bandodkar, the first chief minister of Goa. This used to be the venue for the prestigious Bandodkar Gold Cup annual football tournaments.
The Kala Academy and the newly built INOX complex were not enough to accommodate the thousands of delegates, media people and cinema and political invitees and add to this special invitees which means wives of ministers, MLAs, their family members and friends, whoever wanted to cling the IFFI band wagon. So our brilliant late chief minister Manohar Parrikar came up with the construction of huge air-conditioned shamiana complexes at the site of the delipidated Bandodkar stadium
I RECALL attending the first IFFI inauguration at rigged up Bandodkar stadium pandal, which could accommodate up to 5,000 invitees. The highlight was flamboyant Salman Khan driving up to the stage on a motorcycle. Never mind that IFFI not only led to the destruction of the old vegetable market and football stadium but also insulted the old ward rooms of the heritage premises of the old Goa Medical Hospital (formerly Escola Medica-Cirurgica de Nova Goa) by turning them into rooms for DFF officers and storerooms for film cans, along media rooms, celebrity lounges, etc. What a fall for the old Portuguese time medical college of Goa which is rated the oldest in Asia. Entertainment bonanzas were more important the then chief minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, than the health of the people of Goa!
Also one must remember that those were the times when digital cinema was still a distant dream and had not yet arrived in India in any big way. So obsessed was Manohar Parrikar with IFFI that instead of attending a high profile dinner for information technology czars like Infoys’ Narayan Murthy and Wipro’s Azim Premji…I spotted Manohar Parrikar who was busy inspecting the construction of the new INOX complex!
The tradition of handing over government public properties to private industrialists was started by Manohar Parrikar. After IFFI was over the INOX complex was handed over to a company from Gujarat, namely Gujarat Oxygen, to operate the multiplex all the year around with the exception of the time or ten days when IFFI was organized in Panjim annually. Then INOX auditoriums were taken over by the ESG and DFF and others engaged in running the prestigious film festival.
Narendra Modi is handing over the country’s crown jewels described by the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, as “temples of modern India” – like the Oil & Natural Gas (ONGC) to Mukesh Ambani. That’s just by way of one example. Other public sector projects are being handed over to his close pals from Gujarat and this includes the publicly built ports of India to industrialist Gautam Adani. The latest port which might be on the block is Mormagoa Port Trust where coal mined by Adani at the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, Australia, is shipped off to Goa in India for further transportation to factories in Karnataka.
BRIDGES OVER THE MANDOVI
LAST Sunday, January 16 all the daily newspapers in Goa carried photographs of all the bridges across the river Mandovi. When I first came to Goa in the late 70s to report on the Ramponkar agitation led by the late Mathany Saldanha, there were no bridges in Goa. From the airport to reach Panjim city we had to take a ferry from Cortalim, as there was no Zuari bridge, and another ferry at Betim as there was no Mandovi bridge.
When I came to Goa in 1983 to start the English edition of the oHeraldo, there were only the Mandovi and Zuari bridges. Soon after I settled in Goa we heard that Mandovi bridge was falling down or rather it had collapsed. Some of my friends had come from Bombay and I had to arrange for them to reach their destination in Calangute and Baga beaches by some other means.
I remember it was a Sunday and the friend called me frantically at 9 am asking me how they could cross the river Mandovi which the bridge had fallen down? That’s when I learned that the bridge had indeed fallen down, viartually snapped into two half matchsticks. The bridge was built by the prestigious Gamon and Dunkerly engineering firm. Later Manohar Parrikar took into his head that two bridges would be safer than one across the Mandovi river. The old bridge was repaired and a new parallel bridge was built so that if one collapsed the other could be used. But Parrikar was still not happy!
Though the two bridges connected Panjim to Porvorim and North Goa, they did not connect to Old Goa and South Goa. So the IIT engineer in Parrikar got the idea of a third bridge that would be hydra-headed or rather hydra-handed. It had an extension that would enable those coming from north Goa to go down quickly to south Goa.
ATAL SETU RISES
ANOTHER arm enabled those who wanted to go to Ponda to take the extension towards Ribandar. The problem arose as there was no space at the level at which the existing two bridges had been built. But there is always space in the sky. The the astronaut in Manohar Parrikar gave birth to the sky high third bridge, the Atal Setu, rising high above the other two bridges over the river Mandovi.
The Atal Setu assignment was given to the best known infrastructure firm in the country, namely Larson & Turbo. Alas, Vice-President Venkiah Naidu arm-twisted the L & T to give the contract of building the bridge to his son-in-law Venka Rao, the worst contractor in Goa. Not only did the third Mandovi bridge take longer to build, soon after it developed these potholes and damage control had to be carried out; the arms towards Salcette and Ponda also are still not fully ready yet for use. Despite the height of the bridge it got flooded last June which turned out to be a torrentially rainy month.
Of course nothing could be done as the VP’s son-in-law canot be publicly penalized by a mere chief minister. The late Manohar Parrikars passion for megaprojects, particularly bridges, goes back to 2004. He had built the first cable suspended bridge at Corjuem. Parrikar was so pleased with his new toy that the traditional chief minister’s farewell party for IFFI on the last day of the festival was held on the Corjuem bridge and everybody who they thought were somebody wanted an invitation for the party.
In the meanwhile, the Zuari bridge started showing increasing signs of tumbling down like the fabled London Bridge. By this time the BJP was back on the saddle of power at the Centre and Nitin Gadkari, whose zeal for building bridges and highways is far greater than that of the late Manohar Parrikar, became the minister for road transport and waterways. As one time PWD minister of Maharashtra, Gadkari has always taken pride in building the Bombay-Pune Expressway which cut short travelling time to four hours. Gadkari claims that he rejected tenders from Dhirubhai Ambani and built the expressway on his own terms at a much lower cost than was estimated in a shorter period.
IT WAS during Nitin Gadkari’s time that Mumbai, as it is now called, acquired more than a dozen flyovers. These included the sea link connecting Haji Ali to Mahim. Part of the larger project to connect Colaba to Juhu as a coastal highway. Nitin Gadkari had also proposed an expressway from Goa and Mumbai. Unfortunately for him, the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court told him off. The High Court told him to complete the stretch from Goa to Dodamarg first and fill up the potholes on it before coming up with any more proposals for mega new projects.
Unfortunately, Manohar Parrikar will not be here to see the most ambitiously built bridge in Goa. This new Zuari bridge is still under construction. It is the only bridge in the country and perhaps the world which is intended to be not just a bridge but a major tourist attraction. According to Gadkari, the bridge will have twin towers higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It will have a shopping mall, multiplex and a revolving restaurant. The only doubt is whether the tourist attractions will distract the attention of motorists and increase the number of accidents.
The BJP, not just at the Goa level but at the nation level, is more concerned with showmanship than “Garibi Hatao.” In the largest state of the country Uttar Pradesh, the BJP built an expressway — the Purvanchal Expressway. This project is so robust that the biggest transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) could land on it. Indeed, the expressway was completed and Narendra Modi with dramatic flair climbed out of this IAF jumbo plane onto to the pandal built for the inauguration ceremony of the expressway.
The latest pet megaproject is the new expressway called the Char Dham road project which will connect all the “holy cows” of Hindutva, including Varanasi to Vaishno Devi shrine. But don’t ask Gadkari and Modi what they have done to the Dalits of Uttar Pradeshk! Don’t ask them about the lynching of Muslims on the mere suspicion of transporting, storing and consuming beef even if it is not beef. Ask no questions about calls for genocide at the Dharma Sansad held at Haridwar and New Delhi.
And last but not least of all don’t ask Chief Minister of Goa Pramod Sawant about the Rs70 crore scam involving the hiring of a hundred Goan engineerss by the Supplies Department. Don’t even think of asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant why the price of diesel, petrol and cooking gas has hit century inflation.
In a state where Manohar Parrikar in his 2012 budget was the first chief minister to completely waive the value added tax (VAT) on petroleum products. Do not ask the BJP and Pramod Sawant why Goa is still partying through positivity levels that touched half century mark on Sudnay. But do ask Pramod Sawant and the de factor CM Satish Dhond how they will repay loans of more than Rs35 thousand crore which have gone towards building the mega projects of Goa?