EM­BAT­TLED AT HOME

From pub­lic anger over min­ing and casi­nos to restive al­lies, Goa chief min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar finds him­self walk­ing the po­lit­i­cal tightrope

India Today - - BIG STORY CONGRESS - By Ki­ran D. Tare in Panaji

As Union de­fence min­is­ter, Manohar Par­rikar fought and won a blitzkrieg his gen­er­als in South Block would have ap­pre­ci­ated. Mov­ing swiftly af­ter the March 11 as­sem­bly election re­sults in Goa, Par­rikar snatched vic­tory from the jaws of de­feat to form a BJP gov­ern­ment in the state. He out­ma­noeu­vred the Congress that had won 17 seats to the BJP’s 13. Six weeks later, Par­rikar, in his fourth stint as Goa chief min­is­ter, finds him­self fight­ing what the mil­i­tary dreads the most—a multi-front bat­tle.

To be­gin with, al­lies out­num­ber the BJP in Par­rikar’s cab­i­net—seven berths were handed to the Ma­ha­rash­trawadi Go­man­tak Party (MGP), Goa For­ward Party (GFP) and in­de­pen­dents. Less than two months af­ter Par­rikar as- sumed power on March 14, the eu­pho­ria is wan­ing and his gov­ern­ment faces real test—protests over ram­pant iron ore min­ing, the is­sue of shift­ing off­shore casi­nos on Man­dovi river and un­der­cur­rents of a tug-of-war in his cab­i­net.

Par­rikar’s met­tle was tested in north Goa’s Son­shi vil­lage on April 11 when its res­i­dents came out protest­ing against the en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ard from iron ore min­ing. The vil­lagers com­plained that some 1,200 trucks were us­ing the vil­lage roads ev­ery day to trans­port iron ore from the mines, kick­ing up clouds of dust and mak­ing breath­ing dif­fi­cult. Son­shi is a tribal vil­lage of 60 fam­i­lies. It is sur­rounded by six mines op­er­ated by com­pa­nies Vedanta and Fo­mento. Forty-five protest­ing vil­lagers were ar­rested on April 11 for block­ing the move­ment of trucks and re­leased

on bail six days later. Iron­i­cally, Par­rikar had once de­manded a ded­i­cated cor­ri­dor for min­ing trucks.

The ban on min­ing in Goa was lifted in 2014, but the Supreme Court capped ex­trac­tion at 20 mil­lion tonnes an­nu­ally. With pro­test­ers com­plain­ing of ris­ing air pol­lu­tion and dry­ing up of wa­ter bod­ies, the is­sue has be­come a talk­ing point. Ramesh Gaus, a teacher and anti-min­ing cru­sader from Bi­cholim, says the res­i­dents of Son­shi were forced to protest as the sit­u­a­tion did not im­prove even dur­ing the tem­po­rary ban on min­ing. “Manohar Par­rikar is the most ir­re­spon­si­ble and dis­cred­ited politi­cian in Goa,” says Gaus, ac­cus­ing him of bow­ing to the min­ing lobby. Par­rikar has ar­gued that the min­ing trucks be­long to the vil­lagers and are pro­vid­ing them em­ploy­ment. Gaus claims the trucks are owned by in­flu­en­tial politi­cians. On Par­rikar’s claim that min­ing has brought eco­nomic pros­per­ity, Gaus says peo­ple in the state’s min­ing belt are worse off than those in the other parts.

Bi­cholim has 42 op­er­a­tional mines, the high­est in Goa. A Goa State Com­mis­sion for Pro­tec­tion of Child Rights team vis­ited Son­shi on April 20 and ex­am­ined 15 chil­dren. Its re­port says chil­dren in the vil­lage have been severely af­fected by wa­ter, air and noise pol­lu­tion from min­ing ac­tiv­ity. Ac­tivist Aires Ro­drigues has filed a pe­ti­tion with the Goa Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion ar­gu­ing that ev­ery cit­i­zen has a right over clean air and drink­ing wa­ter and the gov­ern­ment must en­sure it. Af­ter wide­spread crit­i­cism, the Goa State Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board on April 29 put an end to min­ing in Son­shi. It re­fused per­mis­sion to 12 out of 13 min­ing com­pa­nies to op­er­ate in the vil­lage be­cause of air pol­lu­tion.

An­other prob­lem brew­ing for Par­rikar is the Union ship­ping min­istry’s plan to ex­pand the coal car­rier fa­cil­ity at Mor­mu­gao Port Trust (MPT), one of In­dia’s 12 ma­jor ports. Here, coal is stocked in heaps in the open be­fore be­ing trans­ported in trucks and rail wagons. The res­i­dents of Vasco da Gama, Goa’s largest city, are com­plain­ing that the sea breeze brings coal dust to their shores, caus­ing breath­ing prob­lems.

At 13 mil­lion tonnes a year, coal ac­counts for two third of MPT’s cargo. The ship­ping min­istry’s ex­pan­sion pro­ject will help three ma­jor op­er­a­tors—JSW, Adani Group and Vedanta—in­crease their coal-han­dling ca­pac­ity. Once the plan takes off, the vol­ume of coal cargo will go up to 26 mil­lion tonnes a year—rea­son enough for the res­i­dents of Vasco da Gama to op­pose the plan. On April 27, some 1,000 peo­ple at­tended a hear­ing con­ducted by Goa State Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board of­fi­cials. “Coal pol­lu­tion has be­come a ma­jor health risk,” says Mil­ton Bar­reto, for­mer chair­per­son of the Mor­mu­gao Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil.

Bar­reto at­tended a meet­ing of res­i­dents on rais­ing

aware­ness about coal pol­lu­tion from the ex­pan­sion plan. The res­i­dents also ap­proached Par­rikar and de­manded he in­ter­vene. The Congress has de­cided to op­pose the pro­ject say­ing it will desta­bilise the nearby Sada hill and cause land­slides. “Coal pol­lu­tion has made life mis­er­able for the lo­cal peo­ple,” says lo­cal Congress leader Sankalp Amonkar. “I don’t think the gov­ern­ment wants us to breathe fresh air.”

Par­rikar has an­nounced he will visit Vasco da Gama for a first-hand as­sess­ment. An in­sider, how­ever, says he is un­likely to take a stand against the MPT pro­ject, which was con­ceived by Union ship­ping min­is­ter and BJP’s Goa in-charge Nitin Gad­kari. It was Gad­kari’s swift ac­tion that helped the BJP form a gov­ern­ment in the state de­spite get­ting fewer seats than the Congress. “Bhai (Par­rikar) un­der­stands that the res­i­dents’ griev­ances are jus­ti­fied, but he ap­pears help­less,” says the in­sider. “It is not in his do­main to stop the MPT ex­pan­sion work. He will not take on Gad­kari on this is­sue.”

Reached for com­ment, Par­rikar con­veyed through one of his sec­re­taries that it was too early to dis­cuss his per­for­mance—“There is noth­ing to talk about my work in one month. Do a story when I complete a year in of­fice.”

The re­lo­ca­tion of off­shore casi­nos on Man­dovi river in Panaji is an­other con­tro­versy. Six casino ves­sels op­er­ate on the river at present. “The gov­ern­ment will re­lo­cate the off­shore casino ves­sels in Man­dovi to an­other place,” Par­rikar said dur­ing an in­ter­ac­tion with re­porters on March 23. He had also an­nounced that Goans would be barred from vis­it­ing th­ese casi­nos and only tourists would be al­lowed in.

For­mer jour­nal­ist Dhar­manand Ka­mat al­leges the casi­nos are pol­lut­ing the river. “A 7 km stretch of the river, from Mi­ra­mar to Old Goa, has been pol­luted,” says Ka­mat. “Goans have stopped eat­ing fish from this stretch of the river.” Ka­mat re­calls how Par­rikar had ear­lier op­posed the off­shore casi­nos. The BJP can draw com­fort from the fact that its al­lies favour shift­ing the casi­nos. “Of course, we want them re­lo­cated,” says Vi­jai Sarde­sai, GFP leader and agri­cul­ture min­is­ter. “There is a de­mand to take them into deep sea. Why can’t they be shifted to the shore?”

On the po­lit­i­cal front, Par­rikar faces restive al­lies. While he kept the all-im­por­tant home and fi­nance port­fo­lios with him­self, he had to give away the cru­cial town plan­ning, rev­enue and pub­lic works de­part­ments to al­lies. Sarde­sai is min­is­ter for town plan­ning and agri­cul­ture. Two other GFP lead­ers, Vinod Pa­lyekar and Jayesh Sal­gaonkar, are in charge of the fish­eries and hous­ing de­part­ments re­spec­tively. An­a­lysts be­lieve Sarde­sai could emerge as the al­ter­na­tive power cen­tre in the Par­rikar gov­ern­ment in the com­ing days. His aim is to pro­vide sub­sidised food to Goans. “For that, we need to in­crease grain and fish pro­duc­tion,” he says. “We will achieve that as both th­ese de­part­ments are with our party. It will then be easy to con­nect with the peo­ple.”

Sarde­sai has also mooted giv­ing land de­vel­op­ment rights to the lo­cal peo­ple whose plots fall in the eco-sen­si­tive cat­e­gory. The pro­posal, if it goes through, will open up pri­vate land to real-es­tate de­vel­op­ers. Sarde­sai’s say in the gov­ern­ment was ev­i­dent when he got Par­rikar to re­jig the state gov­ern­ment’s slo­gan to ‘Sab ka

saath, sab ka vikas with Goenkar­ponn (Goa’s iden­tity)’. Says Sarde­sai: “This is the golden ju­bilee year of Goa’s ref­er­en­dum to re­main a sep­a­rate state and not merge with Ma­ha­rash­tra. I want the iden­tity and spirit of Goa to be pre­served.”

Fol­low­ing in his foot­steps, Sal­gaonkar has mooted an am­bi­tious plan for af­ford­able hous­ing. “We will have tie-ups with big builders to con­struct gov­ern­ment-spon­sored homes at lower prices,” he says. “There will be 30 per cent quota for lo­cals in th­ese houses.”

Sens­ing the threat from Sarde­sai, Par­rikar in­ducted Vish­wa­jeet Rane, the am­bi­tious for­mer Congress leader, into his cab­i­net. “Rane and Sarde­sai will com­pete for the sec­ond po­si­tion in the cab­i­net,” says a BJP leader. “Bhai will be safe as long as he main­tains the power equi­lib­rium.” The chief min­is­ter has barred vis­i­tors to the sec­re­tariat on Wed­nes­days and has started avoid­ing the me­dia. Lo­cal jour­nal­ists say Par­rikar is a changed man af­ter his stint as Union de­fence min­is­ter. “In Delhi, jour­nal­ists don’t chase min­is­ters to their cab­ins. You should fol­low them,” he even ad­vised re­porters.

Par­rikar’s im­me­di­ate chal­lenge is win­ning the pan­chayat elec­tions sched­uled on June 17. He will then need to find a safe con­stituency for election to the state as­sem­bly. Cur­chorem MLA Nilesh Cabral has of­fered to va­cate his seat for him, but Par­rikar’s heart lies in Panaji, a seat he has won four times. But Ka­mat says Panaji won’t be a walkover for Par­rikar as his pop­u­lar­ity has taken a beat­ing. In the elec­tions in March, the BJP’s Sid­dharth Kun­calienker won from Panaji by 1,000 votes, the party’s low­est vic­tory mar­gin in the con­stituency so far. All signs that 2017 could be a year of bat­tles for Par­rikar.

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