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Editorial

People’s confidence in the quality of fish will be restored, only when safety mechanisms are visible and implemented

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The Goa government was quick to realise that the complete ban on fish imports would have led to absolute chaos in the market as well as a fierce backlash from locals, especially those who are preparing for weddings in their families and wriggled out of a an extremely messy problem by putting an all important caveat in their fishing ban order, stating that only fish which did not comply with the Food Safety and  Standard Act would be banned.

However the order, by no means is the final solution to the fish- formalin crisis. What it has done though it has prevented a massive escalation of prices and a severe shortage of fish for local consumption. But it still leaves all stakeholders with work to do and the state government to ensure much higher degrees of monitoring and compliance. Unless that is visible, there will be no restoration of confidence in the market.

This is what the Fisheries department needs to do

1)    Set up fish testing units (mini labs) at the Margao wholesale fish market and all other markets

2)    Have testing kits at all check points in the state with CCTV cameras and staff where every vehicle carrying fish is inspected and the inspection video and results and transmitted real time to the central control room, which should ideally be in Margao

3)    The government should proactively break the presence of a fish import cartel and ensure that there is no monopoly over imports and that all business is not concentrated by force in the hands of a cartel of fish traders. Import of fish should be transparent and without any coercion.

4)    There should be no flooding of the markets of imported fish. In fact priority should be given to the fish catch in Goa which can be sold in the Goan markets and only after the arrival of local fish, should imported fish be allowed to come in

5)    Work towards a long term course correction by seriously looking into the problem of LED fishing which has resulted in a severe depletion of fish catch in the Goan waters. Getting the fish which Goans like by enabling fishermen to go and procure them has to be a priority, which has been often blocked by fish import cartels.

Most importantly, the crisis needs joint interdepartmental coordination and synergy, by setting up a unified command centre for all decisions consisting of the health and fisheries and transport.

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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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