04 Feb 2024  |   06:04am IST

Why people seem to be in conflict with the government all over Goa?

Be it the issue of coal transportation, railway double tracking, land acquisition from villages for highway expansion and large development projects, illegal fishing using LED boats, sugarcane farmers awaiting for restart of methanol plant at Sanjivani sugar factory or demand for restarting mining, there seems to be protest by the common people at every corner of the State against Goa government. Unfortunately, these issues have been lingering for long and the government, except for doing lip service, has not been able to resolve any of the grievances. This has led to a situation where the people are at loggerheads with the government. In the weekly Herald TV debate, Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA delves into this issue to find out why the people of Goa are unhappy with the administration and where the government is lacking in resolving these long-pending issues
Why people seem to be in conflict with the government all over Goa?

Looking at the protests that have been erupting almost everywhere in Goa regarding government’s policies on various critical issues, there is a feeling of despondency amongst the people because all across Goa, in villages and small towns.

We’ve been witnessing a series of conflicts, arguments, tension and overall dissatisfaction amongst people with the establishment regarding their rights to their lands and properties, with regard to their way of life with a sense of deep concern about their future and the lives and livelihoods of their future generations across the mining belt of Goa.

We have seen that the restart of mining has been fraught with various controversies, not the least of all is a fact that large tracts of land which belong originally to the people including temples, fields and other places, are being lost and consumed under the ambit of mining lease in the coastal belt of South Goa.

We see elderly people in their 80s and 90s forced to come out onto the streets, on the railway tracks with placards essentially complaining about the “intrusion of the South-Western Railways (SWR), who have been carrying out activity on lands whose survey numbers are not even allotted to them.

They are complaining about the fact that their water bodies have got eroded, their storm water drains are finished, they have lost access to their homes and all this under the overall so-called narrative of double tracking to ensure that coal-laden trucks cut through the villages and transport coal from Goa to Karnataka with no benefit to Goa.

In Borim, we have an issue where people are fighting against the new bridge. All they are saying is we are not against the bridge, but against the alignment which is going to take over so much of khazan lands, salt pans and so on and so forth.

In Bhoma, we see a massive issue where a highway expansion is going on. People are not opposing the expansion. All they are saying is take an alternate route so that our houses do not go.

In the northern coastal belt, there are gross illegalities going on, where the sarpanchas are involved in hardcore illegalities. The CRZ violations are happening all over the place. Last but not the least, our sons of the soil – the fishermen - are crying aloud. 

All they are saying is when you have the CRZ notification and rules which say that you will not allow any violations to take place when it comes to the rights of traditional communities in the coastal belt, allow the fishermen to carry out their work, mend their nets and boats, run small establishments there.

So the whole feeling is that, when it comes to big money power from outside, the rules are bent, but when it comes to the lives, livelihoods and the rights of locals, the rules tie you up like a big chain and trap you.

It is important to understand the source of this feeling, why this is happening and what can be done for the government and the people to build bridges, because people versus government is not a healthy sign in any democracy and it surely can be fixed if there’s a little bit of sensitivity involved.

Responding to the prevailing situation, Kalanand Mani, Founder of Peaceful Society, said, “When I see today’s Goa, my heart and mind bleed. It’s unfortunate that a great society is on the verge of total collapse. Goa is blessed with good rainfall, a vibrant cultural diversity and abundance of talented people within one small State. 

The population of Goa was 5.5 lakh in 1961. But the administration is not thinking about how much load it will be able to carry in future. "We are almost touching a crore, if we consider the local population, the migrants and the tourists," he said.

“The biggest mistake which everyone is committing is unplanned development. We have been raising this concern about whether Bangrache Goem is going to become patryache Goem since the beginning of the 1980s when the government started bringing industrial estates in almost every panchayat,” Mani said.

“The mining has destroyed Goa. The best part of Goa, which is its biodiversity, was ruined by iron ore mining. Still, the educated say that mining is the backbone of Goa. Then, we started ruining the coastal areas in the name of tourism and now even the coastal sea water is contaminated. We read in newspapers that our drinking water sources are also contaminated.”

“We have an endless amount of news about the confrontation between the people and the State government. Thankfully the judiciary sometimes upholds the people’s demands, but how long is this going to happen?” he asked.

“Since last 40-45 years, we have been raising the issue of Goa’s survival, but not a single government authority has ever convened any meeting to know why people are agitating. Instead, whether it is Congress or MGP or the BJP, whenever we raise the issue of Goa’s survival, we are branded as anti-Goan, anti-national and anti-development. This is very unfortunate in the setup of the democracy,” he said.

“The Panchayati Raj system has a bigger role to play in conserving, preserving and taking Goa ahead. Since the construction business is shaping like reaching Mars and moon every day, the panchayat has lost its sanctity to control or to take care of their vicinity,” Mani said.

The thing is why has the term NGO become a three-letter bad word? The common perception that is created is it is anti-development. In the context of all the issues that have been raised, throw light on why NGO has become a bad word?

Responding to this question, social activist Swapnesh Sherlekar said, “The reason behind this is very clear. We have been posting tough questions to the government. But it is unable to answer them that too regarding its own policies. Best example of it is sustainability, or Swayampurna Goa as they call it.”

“Let’s take the example of North Goa. Let’s talk about water security. Let's talk about food and water security. North Goa is entirely dependent on Mhadei and Tillari rivers. Both originate from other States. What happens if both the States tomorrow decide to stop the water from coming to Goa? Mhadei is already on the verge of going away from the hands of Goans. What happens if Tilari water is also stopped?” Sherlekar said. 

“In Goa, our water resources are connected with the hills, which have been ruined by mining. The second biggest devil which is actually threatening Goa right now is concretisation. Our Chief Minister is into Real Estate, our TCP Minister is into Real Estate. Literally, out of 40, 39 MLAs are into construction business,” he said.

“These hills act as water reservoirs. After mining, the Real Estate is finishing our hills. This is destroying the aquifers. So water security is going for a toss. Now come to food security. Of all the command areas, the biggest in North Goa is the Tillari command area which is the major irrigation project. Medium irrigation is in the Anjunem command area, which is partly in Sattari and Bicholim. But it is not notified anywhere, the activist said.

He said that TCP department is assuming the powers over it and they are bluntly granting permissions to construct buildings even in agriculture fields, forget command areas.

“So along with water security, our food security also goes for a toss. When we ask these questions, the government doesn’t have any answer. So, what food security are we talking about? If we post these issues to the government, they don’t have an answer and label us as Urban Naxals. That is why we are not able to adjust with the government, because they are having their own vested interests. They are sitting in offices of profit, making decisions, actually for growing their businesses.”

That is what the problem is, which the common people are not able to see because of the freebies. They are going to the people in the panchayats who are involved in illegalities. The High Court itself rapped the former sarpanch of  Arambol for having illegal structures in NDZ identified by the panchayat.

“That is just the tip of the iceberg. Same thing is happening in the entire Goa,” he said. 

Environmentalist Ramesh Gawas has raised the point that mining is more important or water? When the Environment Clearance (EC) was given, one of the questions that arises is, when an EC is given, does one speak to the environment? People are also part of the environment, so without discussing the environment, how can one give an environment clearance?

Apart from water, another issue raised by Gawas is that the total number of houses that are going to be affected under these mining leases is far in excess of what is mentioned in the EC report. 

Dwelling on the subject, the environmentalist said, “All the concessions were granted by the Portuguese randomly because it was manually operated. Transportation was by the bullock cart right. So there was no problem for the villagers. But the scenario changed after the 1990s. Then the things in the mining sector caused havoc for the local people.”

“The latest EC is a fraud, with a lot of concealed information. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) is always committing these frauds. They are not bothered whether the facts are being produced. They have a consultation with the project proponent and the project proponent twists everything and conveys the things in a way that it helps the EAC and then the latter suggests the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). So, that is the process. But who is going to verify?”

 “The way the EAC members visited Mayem to check out whether it is a forest area and how much area is private forest, that they should have come also to visit the other aspects within that mining lease like houses plus other things like water bodies and even  ecosystems, like the aquifers. They don’t do it, that is the only problem and that’s why they are getting the EC so easily,” Gawas said.

The issue now is, it is being increasingly felt that the panchayats, instead of being protectors of land, forest and water bodies, have actually become the villains. Why is this happening? Earlier people used to fight against the government. Now, they have to fight against their own panchayats. Why is this happening?

Responding to this question, J Santano Rodrigues, Convenor, Goa Panchayati Raj Institutions Union, said, “Panchayats can’t be blamed for whatever is happening today. All rights of panchayats have been withdrawn by the government. We don’t have any power. We are not even authorised to give licences for projects in the villages.”

He said that there used to be a time when gram sabhas had value. Now it doesn’t have any powers.

“Government has withdrawn the rights of gram sabhas to discuss issues like giving permission for developmental projects. The youngsters living in villages are not interested in participating in gram sabhas. It seems, only the elders are bothered about sustainable development,” Rodrigues said.

He lamented that the new generation doesn’t even know who the sarpanch of their village is, but they know the local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) or the Member of Parliament (MP), which is tragic to say the least.

According to the Convenor of Goa Panchayati Raj Institutions Union, people believe in promises given by the MLAs or MPs and vote for them.

“But they don’t vote for people like us, who are trying hard to take up different issues in the Gram Sabhas,” Rodrigues said.

The very fact that we are discussing it and obviously there are a lot of concerned people, many silent people who may not be coming out, but have the same kind of feeling. However, there is no doubt about the fact that the common Goan is suffering very silently when it comes to comes to these issues. But they understand the seriousness of these issues, whether it’s in Velha Goa or Arambol. Ultimately, it affects them in some way directly or indirectly because they all are living in the same land and everybody is a custodian of that land.

There is a quote of a villager from Shirgao and this is what he had said, “We consider ourselves as the custodians of the land. The fact is that no court is above the laws and rules of the land, the only and the best solution to this is that the government legislates a rule that will supersede and remove the ownership of the lease holders and give it back to the original holders, who are people and the Comunidade.”

This particular comment does not only apply to mining, it essentially applies to all village community societies that the ‘basic custodians of the land’ principle should apply to everybody and people should always come first.

For instance, one person whose name is Vasant Gad, President of the Shri Kelbai Devasthan, Mulgao, said something which is also worth mentioning. “It has now become a fight for the existence of the village as mining threatens culture, religion, lives, livelihoods and everything connected to the village,” he said. 

If you take this quote and remove the word mining to double tracking or to farming to agriculture, this quote fits in everything that’s happening in Goa and that is where the tragedy lies. 

It has become the fight for existence. It is threatening lives, it is threatening livelihoods in different forms and the idea here is this is not about any political party, it is not about any government, it is not about anything. It is about all of us who can be heroes or villains, depending on our real love for Goa.

Ultimately it is all about need and greed on one side and the ultimate desire to protect Goa for future generations on the other side. The moment these two sides meet, Goa will be beautiful. But if these sides remain in conflict, then such fissures will keep on surfacing and Kalanand Mani’s very sad comments that he travels all over the country, but has not seen this rate of degradation and collapse in any State, is a pointer to the situation that all of us are in.


Iddhar Udhar