Herald: Which way will the palms sway?
Herald News

Which way will the palms sway?

17 Jan 2016 06:27am IST
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17 Jan 2016 06:27am IST
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Under the coconut tree, Goans have eaten their sweet tender coconuts, built relationships, sipped on their feni, strummed their guitars, played football under the shade, slaughtered pigs and used the palm leaf as a tray and sang mandos with a ghumot. But alas, the Goan government has now devalued the tree. Neshwin Almeida tours Xaxti and talks to Goans for whom the tree really matters

The Goa government passed a bill to finally devalue the coconut tree from a tree to grass and the common in Salcete is left confused and feels this was the last straw of this BJP government to show its lack of concern for Salcete’s villages.

It’s now a political issue, with sides blaming each other and supporting each other. Vijai Sardessai’s yet to be conceived regional party plans to fight an election on the issue and a few others as coconut seems the debate in and out of the Assembly. CM Laxmikant Parsekar along with his new environment minister Rajendra Arlekar shaved the palm clean and got his BJP to vote it as grass. While former environment minister Alina Saldanha went all praises for the palm at a recent press conference but she cut short her love for the coconut by saying that she’s bound by cabinet decisions and hence, it’s fine if the palm is now defined as grass. And then a few Xaxtikars under the banner of Coconut Farmers Association propped and mooted the government’s decision to define palm as grass. Hansel Vaz and a few others said that the decision is fine since the older tree that doesn’t yield needs to be replaced especially for feni extractors who prefer the shorter variety. But the coconut farmers association emphasized on the new bill asserted that the intent to cut is more important is it to for scrupulous construction and unplanned development or whether it is to enhance the coconut plantation. And then there’s the voice of BJP noisemaker in the assembly, Sanguem MLA Subhash Phaldessai who says this bill was the outcome of many independent MLAs debating in the last session on how to ease norms to cut a coconut tree, so that palms dangerously growing over weak and ancestral homes can be easily cut without Forest Department nod due to safety concerns. Remember Subhash himself comes under fire for paving way for a factory in his constituency, which is believed to want to cut many palms trees to pave way for a brewery.

All this has happened in 2016 and it’s interesting to see, which way the palm sways. Especially after we saw large scale cutting of palm trees in the road widening from Margao to Panjim and the road widening currently on in Sanvordem, Dona Paula, Bambolim, Navelim, Sanguem, Chinchinim, Goa Velha, Agassaim, Assolna, Canacona, Loutolim, Verna, Ponda bypass and next it’s believed that another 120 odd palms will fall flat with proposed road widening at Succour, Guirim, Porvorim and Mapusa.

“The government has a very clear agenda, built a massive retaining wall along these congested parts of the highway, next carry out the landfilling, place the rubble and last chops the trees and then hot mix overnight. This government must have felled at least 2,000 coconut trees across the state in the name of road widening,” explains Ravi Carvalho, who lives in a small little home between Chinchinim and Assolna.

Ravi’s father has coconut trees over 100 years old and at the age of seventy nine, he remembers how each tree in their property was grown on an occasion and marked a celebration in the family and he says, he’s proud that these trees yield till date with little or no maintenance.

Similar to Ravi, is advocate turned computer designer, Chiro Pereira, who points out that the coconut tree has a huge significance in the life of Goans and should not be taken for granted and chopped off unnecessarily.

“We would refer to a place as Ubo Dando, which meant a road lined with palms. Even in list of assets and in succession deeds of properties, the coconut tree marks boundaries. Phrases like six trees on the eastern border adjoining the property and terminology like this still helps surveyors identify land and landmarks,” explains Chiro.

Chiro feels if there is no norm or nod to get not from the forest official, coconut palms will be cut in a chaotic manner and many properties and deeds which are formulated on the basis of palm tree marking which are even visible in form I and XIV of properties will have to recreated, since trees will disappear overnight to allow haphazard and greedy construction.

Similar to Chiro is the thoughts of Nandan Sawant who explains to us that coconut trees decide the value of a property, how many trees, how much of yield which appreciates the market value of any property, also coconut trees on the bundh of a field had significance to decide boundaries of fields or also the were the ultimate shade for any farmer. He fears how the new law, will not we devalue the tree in the eyes of the law of the land but more importantly, the tree itself has been disgraced and it may lose its charm in Goan culture and heritage.

“We’ve grown up caring for coconut trees and that too not even ours. We treat trees like children, putting fertilizer, cleaning out the dead leaves and choir, placing hooks on the tree to avoid people stealing coconuts, carefully plucking coconuts without disturbing the nest, places cakes of rodent poison on the tree to keep the rats and squirrels away and carrying tones of coconuts on our back,” explains Dinkar Gaonkar, who works for Rs 600 a day whenever a coconut farmer calls him to tend to the palms on a coconut plantation.

Similar to Dinkar’s love for the tree is Altros Dias from the Betul-Velim stretch. Altros explains to us how money had no significance when he accompanied he’s father as a toddy tapper and coconut plucker. They would charge even zero rupees but take coconuts worth the services offered or a bottle of palm toddy for tapping the tree but money had no value against the while the juicy coconut from the palm. Altros believes he has few years on this earth and in Goa but while his sons have also educated themselves and have white collar jobs, Altros is deeply hurt that the BJP government has meted terrible treatment on the long standing coconut tree.

“A coconut tree is not a rose plant, dig a hole grow it and you will see flowers. We dug 6 meter trenches, burnt wood and created a layer of ash, put the choicest soil and salt and bone mill fertilizer and then planted the coconut sapling like a baby with a prayer on our lips and cared for it for 10 years before we saw a good yield. Every Goan house follows these traditions before growing palms and the government makes it so easy that you just wield an axe or a chainsaw and not justify the death of the coconut tree. This is terrible for Goa,” explains Ananti Lotliker from Raia who runs her husband’s coconut plantation and farm despite his death two decades ago.

Prasad Pankar, Goa’s famed photographer has resorted to a photographic protest and posts pictures of palms, toddy and coconuts and abuses his lungs out on Facebook along with Cecil Pinto, Prajal Sakardhandhe, Armando Gonsalves and  few others trying to draw the attention of the government to reverse a decision which seems too betrayed for Goa and Goans. But only time will tell if Parsekar and Arlekar are willing to reverse this destruction. 

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