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In Goa, the status quo of uncertainty has been retained

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So what really transpired in the week between Manohar Parrikar’s desire to step down as Chief Minister of Goa to the BJP president Amit Shah’s tweet stating that he would continue a Chief Minister? The drama, intrigue and the suspense ended in an anti climax, which retained the status quo of uncertainty.

The underlying sense that anyone with half an interest in Goa, gets is the acute feeling of inertia and sloth when the state and the administration does not feel the active presence of a hands on Chief Minister. Here, Parrikar’s style of working when he is in full form, becomes the albatross around the neck of Goa’s administration, in his absence.

While it was hoped that his “pancreatic ailment” would be handled in a  manner which would allow the Chief Minister to be back at even 60% of his working pace, unfortunately the reverse seems to be happening. Importantly, in the absence of health updates, including a full disclosure of his health status (with everyone knowing the nature and perhaps even the extent of his what is plaguing him), his condition is gauged by the number of times he has had to dart in and out of hospital and the frequent unscheduled hospital admissions, immediately after returning from a hospital. Now Mr Parrikar is an extremely proud man and his biggest concern, more than his ailment, will be to project that he is fit and active to carry out the state’s responsibilities. However, it became increasingly difficult to maintain that front on the day he returned from his second longish stint in the US, waited for the urn containing the ashes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Bombay airport and accompanied it to Goa and in less than 24 hours, rushed back to the Lilavati hospital in Mumbai, with his ailment acting up leading to several problems of indigestion.Within a day, he had to be sent back to New York. While the less humane have attacked the government for the expenditure it is incurring on Mr Parrikar’s frequent travel and treatment in the USA, let’s spare a thought about the sheer physical strain on a man who has has visibly weakened.

Goa’s pain is the tussle between Chief Minister Parrikar’s need to have his omnipresence in governance, and patient Parrikar’s compulsion to answer to the crying need of his body for treatment. And it is this tussle that his party, the BJP hasn’t handled all too well. Their manner of treating this as not too serious health setback, which can be sorted by a few odd visits to the hospital and flying to the US (“for indigestion problems”, in the words of a prominent party leader), has actually alienated people, who feel that they have not been treated as well wishers and family members who have right to be felt included. This is different from exercising the right to Information. This is about inclusion.

The politics around the Chief Minister’s illness has also served to highlight divisions within the BJP. It has displayed almost a Congress like approach to identifying or claiming leadership. While obviously not overt, there were the following groups and contenders eyeing at being either Deputy CM or Acting CM or a full CM, essentially getting as close to the top job as possible. But there were reservations to downright opposition to each claimant or hopeful. Shripad Naik has held positions in the union cabinet more than any other Goan politician and has a right to feel shortchanged. It is believed that Manohar Parrikar came between Naik and his Chief Ministership, when the former moved to Delhi to become India’s Defence Minister and narrowed down the choice between Rajendra Arlekar and Laxmikant Parsekar. Parsekar ruled as Parrikar’s understudy and then gradually fell out with each him. Arlekar, who became Speaker and Minister moved into self imposed political wilderness, did expect to be drawn into the vortex of possible choices for two reasons. His seniority has the same vintage as Parrikar’s and he has led the party in Goa and been amongst the main think tank of the party with very close links to the RSS. But to be honest, he wasn’t on top of the charts. However within the BJP the OBC and backward caste grouping, was hoping that a leader from the  weaker sections should get a chance to restore the perception that upper caste leaders have a greater chance at leadership. State President Vinay Tendulkar, fancied his chances as a dark horse, from the non upper caste sections and interestingly, the allies were not too averse to him.

Meanwhile there were other claimants who probably had a stronger claim by virtue of being MLA. Young turk Vishwajit Rane made an all out effort and was the first of the lobbyists who positioned himself as the young face to take the party forward inspite of being a wet behind the years young entrant into the party. The old guard as well as the allies specially Goa Forward would never have accepted even the possibility of Rane been pitchforked. In any case they had a strong handle of opposition since their support is to a Parrikar led government only and not to a BJP government.

At the same time two of the prominet Catholic MLAs, Michael Lobo and Nilesh Cabral too felt that they had a chance edge wise in the event the BJP took a radical decision to have a Catholic Chief Minister for a national grand standing to fight the anti minority perception.

But it’s also clear there was no clear face, an obvious leader who could take over and lead the BJP to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and then subsequently to the Assembly polls of 2022. So when the three central observers met MLAs and the core committee over two days last week and returned they had two sets of challenges

a) Get a leader and a leadership team which would be politically strong and administratively super efficient and

b) Have a floor strength which would enable them to take decisions without threats.

In this scenario the role of the Goa Forward Part would be important. An unlikely ally in the beginning, the GFP has stood steadfastly behind the BJP even during the time of uncertainty over Mr Parrikar’s continuity as CM.

MGP’s Sudin Dhavlikar was less charitable. He even begged with  the BjP observers to make him CM taking off his shirt to show the stiches on his body as a result of a major operation, to get sympathy.There was always a chance that in utter desperation Dhavlikar may make a move against them.

While the BJP still had the numbers it knew that Sardesai would go with them upto a point. Any major deviation or forcing a CM not to his liking was a recipie for a parting of ways. Also with 3 ministers including the CM on sick beds the party got nervous even with moves of the  Congress to serve a notice to move a resolution to impeach the speaker.

At the same time the search for a leader who would hold rhe party together continued to remain futile. And importantly Manohar Parrikar dithered and and finally refused to let go, and the party, mainly the Prime Minister (and not so much Amit Shah) went along with him.

So it’s status quo cuo now. But the unease and uncertainty continues for the ruling party.

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Editorial

Is the new CRZ notification an environment protection or an exploitation tool?

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While an intense forest fire rages around the new coastal zone regulation cleared by the Union Cabinet, one needs to look deep into the fine print  to understand that the tone of the new CRZ notification is to actually leave very gaping exit routes for any project which needs high FARs or build close to the coasts and backwaters. The new CRZ notification allows for exploiting the environment, rather than protecting it.


While conversations center around the reduction of the no development zone from 200 meters to 50 meters of the High Tide Line, ( in densely populated rural Areas with a population density of more than 2161 people per square kilometer as per 2011 census)  it is the exemption given to strategic projects from any restrictions which is the elephant in the room. “Strategic projects” have been innocuously clubbed with defense projects without a detailed explanation on what “strategic” projects are. This leaves a large scope for subjective interpretation, which ultimately gives sweeping powers to the CRZ authority to hold back or clear projects.

The other issue of concern is whether the new notification will apply to projects with retrospective effect. Many of the congested coastal zones of Goa, like Calangute and Candolim are littered with irregular  construction, many of them in the nature of violating the high tide line. The new notification could have the effect of regularizing large scale illegalities. If this is done, then this will lead to an entire illegal zone getting converted to a legal zone, forever burying Goa’s most iconic beaches under concrete.

So cutting through the clutter, the new Coastal Regulation Zone Notification has two specific apprehensions looming large. Firstly, even a construction and builder friendly notification could tip the scales completely away from environment protection if the  no restrictions clause applicable is ‘strategic projects’ without  the definition of “strategic” specified and followed.

Secondly, the new notification should come into effect only when the process of proceeding against all illegalities of the past has begun. The new notification should not become a giant exercise is regularizing illegalities because that would go against the very principle of Coastal Zone regulation. However it doesn’t appear that the protection of Goa’s coasts is very high on the priority of the designated protectors of this very fragile ecosystem.

One indication of this, especially applicable to Goa is the classification of densely populated rural areas, applicable to those areas whose population density is more than 2161 per square kilometer as per the 2011 census. There are two aspects to note here. Goa’s so called rural areas many of whom have come under an urban planning body like the Planning Development Authority would have had a population density of 2161 per square kilometer even in 2011. And in the unlikely event of some areas not having that kind of population density, in 2011, that figure would have surely been reached by 2018. This effectively means that the 50 meters high tide line rule instead of 200 meters would be applicable to almost the entire northern coast and many of the southern coastal areas of Goa.

If the current notification has to pass the test of credibility, then these questions need to be answered in the affirmative. Does the new notification help in taking action against past irregularities? While facilitating more construction ostensibly for more tourism, does it account for the fact that the coasts are already over congested and do not have the carrying capacity to ensure water, sewage and garbage treatment needed to support the new constructions.

Thirdly is the 20 meters buffer zone around islands and mangroves good enough to protect the fragile environment around these islands. Incidentally Goa has some of them around its backwaters like Divar, Chorao, St Estevam etc?

Do any of the above questions have yes, as the answer? If not, then this notification, especially from Goa’s point of view, as it affects the sate directly, has to be redrawn and re-presented. A refusal to do that is not in the interest of Goa.

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Editorial

Sujay’s Take 10: Do students of UGC administered exams need to take off items of attire linked to their faith?

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Founding editor Sujay Gupta’s video editorial on a muslim student refused to take off her hijab before entering her examination hall in Goa on December 18. She had to skip her exam rather than take off an item of attire linked to her faith. Sujay’s take discusses the incident

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Editorial

Mr Parrikar doesn’t need to prove himself to anyone? Why is the BJP making him go to the bridge?

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The BJP government isn’t quite on the brink in Goa. But there are gaps in the functioning of its administration. But was it really necessary for them to force the frail Chief Minister to “bridge” the gap buy inspecting the progress of construction of the new Mandovi and Zuari bridges, this week.

The BJP will be the first to respond to this by saying it is Mr Parrikar himself who wanted to hit the ground running to show that he is in an active state and back to work.

But both in terms of the reactions his photographs on the new Mandovi and Zuari bridges evoked and from trying understand what was the point the Chief Minister was trying to underscore, this merits a discussion not as much about his health than about the very surprising need of the party to showcase that its Chief Minister is fit to work. This begs the question. If the BJP is confident that a visibly frail and ailing Chief Minster is fit to carry out his duties as Chief Minister, then it should allow Mr Parrikar to go about his business quietly, as long as the results are there to see and no one has complaints that files aren’t moving or key decisions are not being taken. If there is slack in the bureaucracy, slack- which floats like dead weight- will rise. It is the BJP and Mr Parrikar who need to figure why is it so important for the party to tell the people of Goa that their tallest leader (and obviously in the shortlist of one of the most influential politicians Goa has ever produced), to respond and take the opposition criticism so seriously. To make a weak and frail Mr Parrikar with a tube from his nose going to his digestive tack and held by aides, to stand on Goa’s new bridges, needs serious compulsion. What was the compulsion here?

Why does he need to prove a point that he is working, even as he is “fighting for his life” (these are the words of South Goa MP Narendra Sawaikar).

Surely Manohar Parrikar doesn’t need certificates. Surely he doesn’t need to reach out to the people of Goa to tell them that he will work for Goa till he can stand and deliver. Mr Parrikar did not ever need to try as hard to prove himself as an efficient administrator. Why is he trying so hard now? And why is the BJP, against the advice of doctors, bent on a flurry of photo ops at the risk of strain, fatigue and god forbid, even worse happening to the Chief Minister?

This brings us to yet another baffling question, to which there are no answers. From his bed at a small private clinic in Candolim before he was moved to AIIMS Delhi, he spoke to his party president Amit Shah and clearly expressed his desire to step down. National observers were sent to decide on the next Chief Minister. And then a sad story unfolded. On a decision bordering on unfairness and perhaps cruelty, the party didn’t want the risk of instability and internal party chaos and decided to literally force Mr Parrikar to shoulder the burden of Chief Ministership at a time when he was, very tragically, finding it difficult to shoulder his own physical burden. The party needs to allow its leader the dignity of privacy and rest and not subject him to “laying foundation stones” and unveiling plaques at his private Dona Paula Residence, which serves as a home, a hospital and the Chief Minister’s office, all at one.

The quintessential question of whether he should step down as Chief Minister or not, has to be decided not by Mr Parrikar alone but by the party, which has to look at these two questions. Can he, and for how long, take the rigors of decision making since the job involves mental strain and quicksilver reflexes and secondly, are political compulsions coming in the way of making a change since any leadership change may involve instability and if they are worth so much to put a man in need of rest through the shocking rigors like his bridge visits

The right to privacy reason which the party has cited in response to Trajano De Mello’s petition asking for the CM’s health records can hold only if the nature of information sought to be guarded under the privacy clause has no impact on his public duty and functionality. If this is affirmed then governance will have to be conducted smoothly, even if it means super effective delegations of powers and liberal distribution of portfolios held by the CM. But the fact of the matter is that his health may be private, but full disclosure about a Chief Minister’s state of health has to be in public interest. And that too be certified health professionals not party leaders.

Moreover, the role of the Chief Minister cannot be cocooned or boxed into a frame of running day to day governance. That is something that the steel frame (supposed) of bureaucracy is trained to do. Mr Parrikar is needed to give vision, forward planning and direction on key aspects mining, tourism, infrastructure, investments and economy. This needs round the clock planning and execution because this will set the foundation for Goa’s recovery. The real challenge is for him to do that effectively with this health condition.

These are complex challenges and there are no easy answers. But the search for a roadmap to solve critical issues is what team Parrikar needs to do. Sending him to bridges with doctors and exposing his frailty to the world is being unfair to the man, his position and yes his dignity. This time and energy would have been better spent in restructuring government functioning, delegating the CM’s routine work which is massive and freeing him up for what he does best- plan and advise. Let’s get that from him either as CM if his health permits or otherwise as the senior most and the best advisor a new Chief Minister can ever get. That will be a true baptism for a future Chief Minister, not by fire, but with fire.

The legacy of Manohar Parrikar will be woven into the fabric of Goa. The BJP shouldn’t belittle it for short term political compulsions. Instead it should allow his leader to step back from the comparatively trivial and allow him to focus on something more telling. His guiding presence rather than his official position should be paramount.

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