In the din of the election campaign, there is a chance that the reasons why we vote and the causes we must vote for, get drowned in the din. This is when neutral voices of experts, passionate about issues they fight for, get a platform to bring the narrative back to where they should – on issues and challenges. We will call this platform Herald Dialogues.
Green Warrior CLAUDE ALVARES kicks off the series
The issue that bothers me most about the present election is the absence of a vision among most of the candidates and parties about where Goa should go. Despite this gross deficiency, they will now descend on us for our votes. Most parties promise us only more of the same: more jobs, more development. None appears to be concerned about the fate of this State and the security and welfare of the Goan population, especially the Bahujan Samaj. This absence of vision among the political class is reflected in an absence of hope among the younger generation which clearly sees no future in remaining in the State for either life or livelihood. Most youngsters see migrating beyond Goa’s borders as the only wise decision they can take considering the circumstances.
Can this aspect of the election then be salvaged by civil society? Yes, it can. This is why and how.
Between the time, the elections are announced and before polling day, the voting comes under the control of the Election Commission. However, the voters come in control of the political process. The EC does not determine the policies that politicians will adopt in the State for the next five years. The voters, by their voting actions, will. They are clearly in charge. This is clearly acknowledged by the fact that even the most powerful and well-known politicians will come to kneel before them, with folded hands, asking the voters to tell them what they want, because everyone knows that the voter is boss. So the bosses during this period of a month must assume responsibility and tell the candidates and parties what should be the policies this state should adopt, whichever party or combination of parties comes to power.
There are many troubling issues that have emerged in the Goan consciousness in the past five years, which now require serious consideration and in relation to which voters can leave their firm imprint. If listed briefly, they would include the mala fide intentions of the government to disenfranchise and disempower tenants through the recent amendments in the Tenancy Act. The amendments threaten not only tenants, but agriculture as such. The second major issue concerns the rights of tribal segments in the State (including Wanarmare) in terms of the Forest Dwellers' Rights Act. In Goa, the State government has refused to recognise them in practice, though it concedes them in principle.
For citizens in the developed portions of the State, there is the drive – overseen by government, advised by a completely crooked and corrupt Town Planning Department – to destroy forever the land use originally installed over centuries by the original inhabitants. These actions are reflected in new moves to illegally modify the Outline Development Plans and Regional Plan. In fact, both these land use documents are themselves being bypassed by the Investment Promotion Board headed by none other than the Chief Minister.
And of course, there is the issue of mining which epitomises, in a very graphic manner, the manner in which the resources of which the Goan population is owner are handed over free to a handful of powerful companies and individuals. If the Goan voters do not press for a resolution of this issue during this election, they will lose an opportunity that may not come again.
For some months now, the Goenchi Mati Movement has begun to enter and crowd people’s minds with some unusual ideas. These ideas appear unusual, at first. However, as the people leading the movement underline, these ideas are actually nothing but part of the Constitutional scheme which ought to run this country and its policies. They have in fact been underwritten by several judgements of the Supreme Court of India, the most notable being the Goa mining case decided on April 21, 2014.
In its judgment, the Court declared all mining from November 22, 2007 till it was halted on September 10, 2012 illegal. Governments are required to recover amounts earned by illegal miners. This, the Goa Foundation pointed out to the authorities, came to Rs.65,058 crore (or Rs.4.5 lakh per person in the State).
However, instead of recovering this amount, the State Government went ahead and renewed 88 mining leases, all owned by the very same lease-holders that were involved in illegal mining. If a teacher betrays trust and rapes a few of the students given in his care, would you give the class back to him for further abuse? But this is precisely what the Goa government did with the 88 lease-holders.
The value of the ores on these leases (if we minus all costs of extraction, etc,) comes to Rs 79,000 crore. Put Rs 79K crore and Rs 65K crore together, and we get the mind-boggling sum of Rs 1,44,000 crore, wealth of the Goan population stolen from them. Divided among the Goan population of 1.5 million, this works out to Rs 10 lakh per head. Instead, the population today has a public debt of Rs 66,000. What indeed does one do with such incompetent and corrupt political leaders? Do we continue to elect them? If we do, should we not ask them to do our bidding with the resources we own in law, when they come around to ask for our vote?
The Goenchi Mati Movement needs you, as a voter, to make the following demands of the persons who want your vote:
a) Are they willing to cancel the 88 mining leases issued illegally and immorally to miners and ensure that the Rs 79,000 crore remains with the Goan public?
b) Once the 88 leases are cancelled, will the new MLAs work to recover the Rs 65,000 crore gained by miners through illegal mining over five years, as determined by the Supreme Court?
c) Will they ensure that all mining leases henceforward will be kept in the possession of the Goa government, and all mining revenues from sale of all mining (and not iron ore alone) is deposited in the Goenchi Mati Permanent Fund, already set up (under the name of the Goan Iron Ore Permanent Fund) by order of the Supreme Court dated 21.4.2014?
d) Will they promise that the incomes generated from investment of this Permanent Fund, after adjusting for inflation, will be paid to every individual living in Goa? At present, they go to not more than 20 odd mining families. More than one-third, in fact, goes to a company registered in London!
Despite the enormous wealth owned by the citizens of Goa – manifest so clearly in the case of mining and the mining scam – its so-called leaders have forced the State to borrow huge amounts of money from banks like NABARD for bridges, expensive garbage plants and airports, so that the average Goan today has the unique distinction of being the most indebted person in the country!
So when the next political candidate comes along, ask him these questions. Look for his or her answer. Vote accordingly. At least for once vote for yourself and your children and theirs and make the voted work for you and your welfare. If you don’t do it, no one else will.