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On jobs, Michael Lobo has hit BJP where it hurts

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The vocal Calangute MLA Michael Lobo has the penchant for making remarks which have made the ruling BJP coalition uncomfortable. He has at times taken sides and batted for those who are fundamentally at loggerheads both with the government and the general public, in order to protect his constituency interests, like the powerful taxi operators lobby.

But when he castigated his own BJP government for its inability to clear pending jobs, he hit at a core issue, which has and continues to hurt the BJP- jobs.

 In an internal organisation exercise conducted by the BJP before the 2017 elections, it was revealed that the inability to create jobs stood out as the single biggest unkempt promise. This was uniformly consistent throughout the state. The BJP tried to offset this by harping on its social welfare schemes like Griha Aadhar, Ladli Lakshmi and the Dayananad Social Security scheme. But in the 2017 elections, the votes of women, especially in rural areas were no match for the anger of the youth, hungry for government jobs. At the same time private sector employment, which was expected to offer 50,000 jobs, did not see the light of day. The precarious job situation, was the elephant in the room the BJP, as a party did recognize but did not realize the damage this elephant could cause.

A part of the problem lies with the socio political terrain. Historically political parties have co-related job creation with votes. The Congress has, more often than not, led the way, filling up vacancies in Power, PWD and Health just before elections. Prior to the 2012 elections, there was a mass back dated hiring spree, to circumvent the dates of the election code of conduct,  of linesmen in the power department, by the Congress government, most of them from the constituency of Power Minister Alexio Sequeira.

That trend continues even as the world changes. After the 2017 debacle, the BJP government, realising that promises of job creation, will be difficult to fulfill, changed tack and proposed the mantra of people becoming ‘job creators’ and not ‘job seekers’, in line with the state’s start up policy. The policy guidelines stated “The coalition government now wants its people to be ‘job creators rather than job seekers’  a dream concept of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’. The Startup Policy, which aims to make Goa feature among the top 25 destinations for early stage companies in Asia by 2025.

What was missed was the fine print. The start- up policy cannot be a substitute for government job creation from the political point of view. In modern developing societies, the trend is to move towards self starting and entrepreneurship coupled with merit based jobs. Goa will hopefully get there.

“The country has been dragged through 10 years of Jobless Growth by the Congress-led UPA Government,” the BJP had said in its manifesto for the 2014 general election, “Under the broader economic revival, BJP will accord high priority to job creation and opportunities for entrepreneurship.”

But in a society where for over fifty years, the government has been the greatest employer and provider, it will take a long time for young hopefuls to look at themselves as self starters, when the easy option to go to the local ruling party MLA or minister exists. And the local politician isn’t quite interested in creating a Goa of serial entrepreneurs, he is interested in ensuring a steady supply of votes by dangling the every productive carrot of jobs.

It’s a political need. And the BJP by being unable to fulfill this need in Goa, has invited the frustration of MLAs belonging to the party as well as the allies. Therefore Calangute MLA Michael Lobo’s missive to Chief Minister Parrikar about his frustration at job vacancies in the government not being filled, has hit the BJP where it hurts, its future electoral prospects.

Speaking to reporters three days ago Lobo said that if Parrikar’s health did not permit him to function, then he should hand over the responsibility (of running the state) to someone else as “people are very disturbed due to unemployment”. “I hope my voice goes to his ears, and he clears the jobs quickly because the youth of Goa are waiting to apply for jobs”, Lobo said
Interestingly, Lobo batted for the allies, and his long standing closeness to the Goa Forward party is well known. He said “this government was formed with allies. Now, the allies are wondering what is going on, because they are also answerable to the people”

His statements drew quick reaction from the ailing Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. Inspite of his weakness and ill health, he called Lobo to Delhi to apparently give him a soft dressing down and promised to address the job issue by this month end.

But it is clear that the job fiasco will be the bane of the government since it is creates direct discontentment. It hits because this offsets any other achievement the government plans to showcase. At the time when the government is vulnerable and its second line of leadership not chalked out, an attack on unavailable jobs by its own senior MLA, was the last thing the BJP would have expected. It surely had the “ouch” effect.

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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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