05 Feb 2023  |   05:29am IST

Are the mega projects meant for Pernem boon or bane for local residents?

Traditionally known to be a socio-economically weak, Pernem taluka is suddenly in focus due to some of the big-ticket projects that are coming up here. The biggest of them all is the Mopa greenfield international airport, better known as Manohar International Airport. Apart from the airport, some of the other projects include the proposed electronic city and AYUSH projects. In the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint, AVIT BAGLE evaluates whether these mega projects help in alleviating the lives of the local people or they will remain deprived from getting the benefits from them
Are the mega projects meant for Pernem boon or bane for local residents?

Pernem is the northen most taluka in North Goa. It acts as the gateway of Goa from the Maharashtra side. It has a Municipal Council. Agriculture and masonry have been two major occupations here. But with the passage of time, only agriculture has remained as the only major source of income for the people.

Now, the taluka is witnessing a boom of some mega projects like the Manohar International Airport and some other proposed big-ticket projects, for which land has been acquired from the locals. But will these projects usher in change in lives of these people who have parted with their most crucial possession?

One of the most prominent faces to emerge from Pernem undoubtedly is former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar. Before becoming the CM, he was also the State health minister and MLA. Parsekar had played an important role in bringing some major projects to Pernem to develop the region.

Speaking about the vision he had in mind for Pernem, the former CM said that Pernem was looked down upon as a backward taluka with no development and employment opportunities.

“In recent years, the education field has taken a great leap in the taluka and if we were to make a list of the number of graduates State-wide, then Pernem will have the most degree holders. It feels sad to see when youth even with engineering degrees have to go to industrial estates at Mapusa or Pilerne or Karaswada and earn very less. So, I thought we should bring projects in Pernem which would not only reduce time and money spent on travelling to faraway places, but also get jobs which would pay them well,” Parsekar said.

“Unfortunately, the projects which I pushed for during my tenure, could not be implemented in entirety as someone else came to power. I genuinely regret that the Pernem locals are not getting the benefits of the projects as I hoped they would,” he said.

When asked whether there was a need for such mega projects to develop Pernem, Adv Prasad Shahpurkar, social activist and lawyer said these projects were needed for the development of this taluka.

“But apart from the major projects, some of the projects have been imposed on people, which has caused social imbalance. As mentioned by the former chief minister (Parsekar), the projects were brought to improve the standard of living of the locals through employment.But, the detailed study of the possible impact of these projects on the day-to-day life of the locals was not done. While the objective of these projects is to have development, there is a need to assess its social impact,” Adv Shahpurkar said.

Does it mean that the projects were brought without giving enough thought on the socio-economic implications?

“In some of the cases, yes. There is Mopa airport of course. But apart from that, the proposed Electronic City and AYUSH projects needed detailed study regarding employment generation potential and their overall impact,” he said.

Rajan Korgaonkar, Convener of Mission for Local social organisation, who has always fought for giving preference to the locals while giving jobs generated by these mega projects, said that in 2002 the Siolim-Chopdem Bridge was opened and connectivity improved, which led to the introduction of many projects.

“However, it is still a question whether these projects have helped Pernem locals because somewhere down the line, they are still toiling in life. It's a huge question mark actually. The land of the people has been taken for these projects, which poses threat to the very existence of the locals and the system which they have followed for years,” Korgaonkar said.

“The contracts of these projects are not given to local contractors. We were not included in these projects. The same happened during the recruitment wherein despite taking the lands of the farmers, they are now forced to do petty jobs to earn their livelihood. International Airport sounds like such a heavy term, but the big question here is, how much it has benefited Pernem locals,” he remarked.

“At least I feel that till today it has not benefited any of the locals. The talk about thousands of youths being given jobs is making rounds, but I challenge the government to show at least hundred locals employed at the airport. The airport was proposed 5-10 years back. So, if the locals were given the training that time, they would have been job-ready by now,” the Convener of Mission for Local said.

He added that out of thousands of jobs given at the airport, if at least 50 per cent were locals, then that would have been great news.

“Majority of the higher posts are given to the outsiders and I feel genuinely bad. The government has failed even when it came to including local taximen for the taxi business at the airport,” Korgaonkar said.

Ugvem panchayat has been declared as a project-affected panchayat. When asked about the general opinion of the people in his village regarding the upcoming projects, Vinayak Mahale, the former Sarpanch of Ugvem said that the projects have not proved to be beneficial to any of the panchayats – be it Ugvem, Dhargal or Mopa.

“In fact, it has caused only losses. First of all, the people’s ancestral land which were being cultivated since the time of their forefathers has been acquired. Maybe only 25 per cent agreed to give up their land, while the rest of them had to give up unwillingly,” 

Mahale said.

“I remember my own ancestors who would camp for about three months on the land where the airport stands right now and cultivate that area. The compensation given by the government is not sustainable. The panchayats which are known as independent governing bodies, have been left with no rights whatsoever when it comes to such projects,” he said.

He alleged that even for renovation of a cowshed, the panchayat has to give permission or else it could be demolished. But regarding these mega projects, neither the panchayats were taken into confidence nor were they given any rights to have a say in the matter.

“By the blessings of the people, I also got the opportunity to be sarpanch of the village for five years. I feel, we the people of Pernem taluka, somewhere lacked the leadership to take up the issue. Also, differences of opinion within us did not help our cause either,” the former Sarpanch of Ugvem said.

“The government may claim that jobs are being given at the airport, but we have seen the type of jobs that have been given. Security and housekeeping are the typical jobs given to the locals and even those are on contract-basis. Even the AYUSH hospital does not have local staff. The migrant population has increased so much that I fear that in future, our elected representative will be a migrant. Development is beneficial only if it is inclusive and sustainable,” he added.

Speaking about the sudden influx of development projects in Pernem taluka which has remained socio-economically backward, Advocate Sadanand Vaigankar, social activist and lawyer, said that the two bridges which were built, eased the life of Pednekars and opened some doors for the progress of the taluka.

“The international airport was first proposed at Kitla. But since it was not feasible due to issues related to runway length, it was forced upon Mopa. Goa is a coastal State and has a sea port and an airport. The additional airport will only boost the development further to an extent which will be comparable to Mumbai. Dharavi slums are close to Mumbai airport,” Adv Vaigankar said.

“I fear that Pernem will become another Dharavi. Let alone other mega projects, just the Mopa airport and its future expansion will put tremendous pressure on the population of Pernem, which has an area of 250 sq km. The coast is close to the airport, so a forced development is very much certain. Because of the boom in commercial activities, the region is so congested that even emergency vehicles cannot pass through,” the social activist-cum-lawyer said.

He alleged that this is the reason why illegal activities are also on the rise in the region.

“If the government does not focus on proper planning now, then the entire Pernem taluka will become a slum area and that would be one of the socio-economic impacts of the mega projects. The airport will bring a lot of revenue and provide suitable conditions for businesses. So, people will start doing any sort of business. This unplanned development will boost the unethical way of doing businesses,” he said.

 He emphasised on the fact that economy and social development go hand-in-hand so that there is no scope for social imbalance. Such imbalances lead to corruption everywhere, right from picking up the garbage to installing electricity transformers.

“We have such a beautiful culture but it will not last. It is a question of survival of the fittest. But we still have an option. Goa was well developed even before Portuguese rule and there is a misconception that the comunidade system or Gaonkari system was introduced during the Portuguese regime. But it existed even before that and we need to bring it back. If we re-establish the system then regardless of the land being sold to someone, it will still stay with the villagers,” he said.

On the long-term fallout, Adv Vaigankar said that there won’t be an absolute ownership of land.

“If we were to see as per 2021 crime rate, there were 21 murders, but in majority of the cases non-Goans were involved. Goa's crime rate is rising. Re-establishing comunidade will help improve the situation, otherwise Pernem will be known for slums in the vicinity of a beautiful beach,” he said.

Pernem constituency has little over 30,000 voters, which is expected to rise by next elections. Another projection is that in the next ten years, Pernem’s population density would be so high that it could accommodate five constituencies. Irrespective of what kind of future projects are coming here, whether it is an entertainment zone or AYUSH hospital, people are not yet clear about these projects.

One of the changes that one can notice is the Pernem market is slowly losing its control to non-Goans. Parsekar, who apart from being a politician, has also been a teacher, giving his perspective on the potential social stress that will hit Pernem in near future, said that the local leaders and elected representatives have to understand the potential damage that would be caused.

“You can’t employ someone with a generalised approach. There has to be a tailor-made approach. Minute details, such as the youth's calibre and interests have to be considered by the leaders during the implementation of such projects. The AYUSH hospital and Research Centre will not only be beneficial for Pernem but entire Goa and 50 per cent of the seats are reserved for local Goans,” the former CM said.

“Yes, it is regrettable that the majority of the locals could not be hired, but if the recruitment is in the hands of someone we do not know, then it is obvious that such things will happen. Sadanand gave a poignant example of Dharavai slums and we all have to be cautious that such things do not take place here,” Parsekar said.

Highlighting the positives of mega projects like the airport, Parsekar said that it is also a matter of pride that people from all parts of the world will enter Goa through Pernem.

“There was a time when there used to be hardly any buses going to Pernem from Panjim and today the same taluka will act as an entrance for the visitors. We have to remember the good things too. The Aviation Skill Development Centre as per the contract was supposed to be built at ITI, Pernem. However, the centre was then built within the premises of the airport itself. If the centre was built outside the premises, the government could have controlled it, which would have proved beneficial,” he said.

“I feel it was not appropriate to make the changes in the original contract and some of the problems arose due to those changes. The proposed Electronic City at Tuem was my brainchild, which was approved in 2016. It was supposed to be built and become fully operational within the next 36 months. But after me, it did not receive the needed push. The basic necessities such as water, power and link road were approved, but never implemented. Around 4-5 good companies had approached that time and now they are nowhere to be seen,” Parsekar added.

There doesn’t seem to be any opposition for the Electronic City, but projects coming up in Dhargal are causing substantial uncertainty as people don't know exactly what is the nature of these projects, is it an entertainment zone or a casino. People are actually getting cagey about this uncertainty. 

Laxmikant Parsekar said that let alone people, even he is unaware. 

“The companies which approached initially backed out saying that there are no basic amenities such as water, power and link road. No serious enterprise will be willing to set up their operations in these conditions and this will boost the confidence of land sharks. The Electronic City was supposed to be operational within three years and now it has been more than six years, there is no sign of this facility. Except for building roads, the State government has only wasted the money received from the Centre,” the former CM alleged. 

“I will be blamed if the acquired land goes in the wrong hands, because I have worked hard for the land acquisition. There are still plots in the Tuem plateau which are not allotted to anyone. I identified 5-6 plots close to each other. I had hoped that this project would benefit at least 5000 people. Even though I am not an MLA now, people still approach me to get the project completed,” 

he said.

The density of population will increase due to constant inflow of migrants and even the future sarpanchas could be from another state in the near future. As a social scientist, assessing the potential change in demographics of the villages and its socio-economic impact, Shahpurkar said, “First of all, I would like to object to the sentence that Pernem was a backward taluka and is developing only now. Intellectually and mentally the taluka was always developed and it's only the materialistic development that is taking place now.”

He said that earlier people were more reliant on agriculture, farming, orchards etc and with the advent of tourism, people started leaning more towards tourism related businesses. 

“This has changed the mentality of the people. Due to the lack of guidance and foresightedness, people did not think too much about what they are going to leave for the future. They thought about just tomorrow and not five years down the line. They fell prey to the beliefs shown to them regarding the benefits of these projects in the coastal region. They realised it much later that they parted with their most prized possession – land,” Parsekar said.

“We have to accept one thing that skilled stonemasons from Pernem who built incredible churches and other architectures in the State, are on the verge of extinction. The reason behind such a situation is that we did not realise the importance of our own people. The issues such as migration will keep happening, we cannot stop it. But what is extremely important is that we cannot forget our own identity,” the former CM said.

He said that enough efforts weren’t made to know and conserve the local identity. 

“If we continue on the same path, then we will collapse. That is when the entry of migrants will get stable. However, a lot changed during the pandemic. Lot of people turned back to agriculture. The period from Liberation till 2000 was filled with struggle as most of the people were farmers. They did not want the same fate for their children. So, once they went out for better jobs, they started to earn more,” he said. 

“What happened during the pandemic was that since people were forced to remain inside their homes, they decided to get back to farming. In my opinion, that is the turning point. If we get back to traditional occupations and live the old-age village life, we will be able to limit the dominance of migrants,” he said.

“To add, if there are 100 farming families, maybe only one would be willing to work. Not just in agriculture, but other sectors as well. The other day, I counted the number of hair salons in my village of Arambol and all 22 were owned by migrants. I have planted a cashew orchard and kept six workers who hail from Chhattisgarh, because I am not getting Goan labourers,” he said.

The former CM said that there are reasons behind migrants seen prominently in local businesses. 

“We have carpenters with the surname Chari, but now where are they? All the traditional occupations have been lost. I do not mean to disrespect anyone, but if you give a call to a migrant worker, they finish the work in no time. They are competent and also reasonable,” Parsekar said. 

He said that Pernem's Sant Sohirobanath Ambiye College is made of laterite stone as a tribute to Pernem's stonemasons, but they have disappeared. Frankly speaking, Goans do not want to work hard and the parents too have made their children lazy. This is regrettable.

Once known as a strong Konkani-leaning city, Margao has changed to a more Hindi-speaking region. Rajan Korgaonkar, who has witnessed the transition, and has been living in Pernem for the last 4-5 years, speaking about the changes he has witnessed in the taluka, said that Margao changed drastically after the introduction of the railway station. 

“Now you can imagine what an international airport would do to the Pernem, which also has road and rail connectivity. The government should have thought about it. Since they were already bringing the airport, what was the need for other projects? They should have thought of the next 25 years since they were bringing in such a huge project,” Korgaonkar said. 

“Even AYUSH hospital was not necessary at Dhargal. Maybe, it could have been built at Ibrampur. Other areas could have been developed too. Pernem has almost become a metropolitan city and the government should bring some restrictions to preserve the identity of the locals. If they were bringing the airport, they should have kept it as an airport and not made it an aero city,” the Convener of Mission for Local said.

“So, in a way you are actively establishing more settlements to accommodate more people. All this is imposed on Pernem people, but we are not getting any economic benefits from it. Mandrem was such a beautiful place before and now it's totally commercialised. With the rate of migration happening, Goans will become a minority there,” the social activist said.

Pernem taluka is close to Maharashtra and now there is an airport. There has been an increase in the people staying on rent and other demographic changes are happening. Speaking about these changes, Mahale said that many of the villages have undergone a lot of transformation. 

“The rate of land acquired for the airport in my village alongside Mopa is above Rs 4 lakh per sqm. There is another project, where a canal measuring nearly 20 meters of Tilari was dug up and for the last ten years no work has been done. I had demanded for a flyover when I was the sarpanch. For such a big village, they have built only one subway. Even the cattle who would go to the river for drinking water are now falling victim to road mishaps while crossing such a dangerously built road. People too now have stopped buying more cattle for business and are only looking after the ones they have currently,” the former sarpanch said.

When asked how to preserve the ethos of Pernem, Vaigankar said that comunidade is one way. Pernem should adopt planned development on the lines of Panjim. All the offices in Panjim are placed within the area of 8 sqkm. But in Pernem, all the offices are located very far away. Preserving agriculture, a traditional occupation, could be another way.

Laxmikant Parsekar said that the Goans, especially today’s generation, have to wake up. 

“We cannot just sit and expect things to go our way. We have to adapt to the current speed at which the changes are happening and take the opportunities as they come. Blaming anyone is not the way. The traditional occupations have already been lost. Planning is essential. Infrastructure development is necessary. But for genuine development, it is not necessary to sell land at hiked rates,” Parsekar said.

Korgaonkar added that planning is needed and that should start from the homes. “The government needs to think hard whether the new projects are actually needed or not. Most importantly, Pednekars have to wake up and put in efforts to retain our identity,” he added.