Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
Goa Statehood Day on May 30 is going to be celebrated in a big way, that's what the government has planned. President Ram Nath Kovind will lay the foundation stone for a new Raj Bhavan and the government will felicitate 35 individuals, including all former chief ministers, for their contribution in shaping Goa. A noble idea no doubt, as there are many who have not just shaped Goa but played key roles in protecting the land, culture, language, heritage. These 'rakhondars' also deserve recognition of their contribution to the growth of Goa. Also, and this is a moot point that is yet to be convincingly concluded, is this the shape of Goa that was envisaged?
Thirty-five years from the day Goa was conferred statehood, what have been the tangible benefits - those that can actually be quantified? Statehood made Goa the decider of its own destiny as the dependence on the Centre for governance and for finances got reduced substantially. It got an identity and its language was enshrined in the Goa VIII Schedule of the Constitution. Overnight Goa's elected government was vested with the powers to frame the laws, while as an union territory it was essentially answerable to the Union government despite having an elected assembly. After May 30, 1987 Goa did not have to receive the approval of New Delhi for every one of its decisions. It could take its own decisions, plan its own course and direct the fortunes of the land and the people. There was tremendous political empowerment that was not restricted to the increase in size of the Assembly whose strength went up from 30 to 40. For a large number of people, statehood meant, and perhaps still means, having a Legislative Assembly of 40 members and nothing beyond that.
With statehood and a government that was its own master, came other responsibilities. As a State it had to generate its own revenue and the dependence on the Centre for financial assistance was severely reduced. Somehow, Goa has never been able to make this transition into financial independence and the dependence on the Centre continues, especially when there are large capital outlays for infrastructure development projects. Yet, finances has never been a strong point of any government. Debt stands at over Rs 20,000 crore and every sale of government bonds adds to the figure. The State is selling bonds quite regularly and though this is within its borrowing limits, there is no financial plan on how to meet the payouts. This is not a healthy sign for a State that is 35 years old. It needs more financial planning. When we believe in a double-engine government is the best then it statehood has not served its purpose.
With political power in the hands of the local politicians, did Goa grow in the best possible manner? A State is best governed by its own who know what is best for their land. If such a question is posed there would be a divided opinion with a vociferous section condemning the destruction to the environment and the development that has contributed to the destruction. There are protests everywhere and there isn't a single week without a new protest breaking out. There is the other side whose view differs and believes that development - essentially construction - is the best way forward for Goa, without a second glance at how this can affect the balance the nature has gifted to the land.
The belief that statehood would pave the way for Goa to better plan and decide its own future was, somewhere along the last three and a half decades, shattered. However much the political class may attempt to convince that what has been decided is the best for the State and the people, doubts will surface as Goa the paths chosen haven't returned the dividends that could have been expected. Take for instance how the mining sector has unravelled in the past decade. Had the government supervision of the sector and of how the business was being conducted been strictly as per the law, mining operations would never have been stopped and the large number of people who were rendered jobless by the closure of mining operations would still have jobs. Of course the profits that were made during that 'boom' period that enriched a few individuals would not have happened, but the price of allowing a few to get rich is being paid by thousands who are currently sitting idle at home.
Was this mismanagement of governance the mandate bestowed by statehood? Successive governments from different parties have changed policies of the previous dispensation. That happens across the world, but currently the government of the same party has opened up a couple of decisions of the previous government for review. Should this bring about a better planning it is welcome, but it casts aspersions on the decisions of the previous government of the same party. It is a charge of no confidence and it vindicates the protests from the people. This is not what statehood was meant for. But sadly that is what has occurred, as being masters of our own destiny we have not mastered the art of governance.
Paradoxically, Goa's plans for this statehood day are a reflection of all what is wrong in the planning process. A foundation stone is being laid for a new Raj Bhavan that a former governor had opposed primarily due to the financial crunch. As plans for the foundation stone laying ceremony were announced, farmers protested. It leaves a question as to does Goa need a new Raj Bhavan when debt is rising and farmers are protesting? Statehood Day could well be a time to take a pause for some reflection that was not done on the 60th Liberation Day. Celebrations of such days that mark a piece of history are necessary to keep memories alive, but new paths are to be created for a sustainable future that takes into consideration the changes that can occur. Days like Statehood Day should therefore include a brainstorming session where people can collectively air their views.
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa is Editor, Herald. He tweets at @monizbarbosa