Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting on to proposed Mopa Airport: A journey in the valley

The great media engineering is currently on in Goa to break stubborn rustic villagers that has proved to be thorn in the way of glitter hungry vested interests that includes all the leading political political parties. I had a occasion today to visit the portion of this virgin green site ironically chosen for greenfield airport. I found the field is mountainous green already and airport can do nothing more than turn it grey. After talking to the villagers I also realized that the airport is more meant to benefit the landlords of Pernem such as Deshprabhus and to crush the village economy. There are also other powerful vested interests operating behind the scene here too.

The story of this controversy ridden proposal begins in 2003 when the Goa government issued first land acquisition notification and sanctioned Rs. 500 crores. The villages that would end their existence includes Warkhand, Ambarem, Ugem, Mopa, Cahndel and Casarvane which is free from Desprabhus as landlords in hinterland eastern Pernem. At the time people filed their objections in large numbers but due to their ignorance and authorities determination to fool people the acknowledgement copy were not officially stamped. Amidst controversy the notification lapsed in 2006 with no major headway in land acquisition process for the airport.

This led the the protests by Pernem landlord Jitendra Deshprabhu and State Panchayat and Sports minister Babu Azgaonkar to launched the agitation in 2006 to demand Mopa airport. Mandrem BJP MLA Laxmikant Parsekar played an active role in blocking Siolim-Chopdem bridge and was arrested in this process. Jitendra Deshprabhu slept on Konkan Railway track for few hours in to further the cause of airport. It is little surprising therefore that Mopa and surrounding areas are deprived of water supply from Tillari water dam in spite of it being in command area of the project despite various demands from the villagers.

Land acquisition notice - 22/21/2008 - was again issued in 2008 with emergency clause by the Revenue department. Along with this another land acquisition notice -22/22/2008 - was issued for the airport road. In 2009 this land acquisition was declared under collector within 15 days. This forced the locals to knock the Goa bench of Bombay High Court. Villagers filed two writ petitions - 510/2009 and 568/2009. Villagers wanted to know as to what is the emergency in acquiring the land and when central government is required land why State government is acquiring the land.

The area is also lush green with forest cover and bauxite mining. This motivated a mining company to file another case in High Court hoping that mining will get priority over airport. Anther villager went to the court in writ number 135/2010 where in the government replied that current Dabolim airport will be shut down once Mopa airport is commissioned.

Mopa is an elevated plateau of 7 square kilometers area that is rich in wild fauna in the night. They come on the plateau from nearby dense forest. And no EIA is conducted for this in order to get the clearance from MoEF (Minister Jairam Ramesh has confirmed this in a letter to Gurudas Das Gupta on June 22, 2010) and land acquisition proceedings got started off. Why this mighty hurry? You only need to check out the land sale details at Pernem Mamlatdar office.

Mopa airport land sought to be acquired even before the regional plan for Goa is passed and that too in ecologically extremely sensitive area - Eco Zone I. Warkhand stands to loose 22 lakh square meters of land, Mopa 23 lakh square meters, Ugem 6 lakh square meters, Chandel 8 lakh square meters, Ambarem 4 lakh square meters.

Feasibility report for this airport was prepared by Bhagat Infrastructure, Delhi between 1996-2000 and Airport to function on the BOOT (Build Operate Own Transfer) basis. Wit the stick of magician the found it feasible to locate another airport with the distance of 30 kms off Dabolim Airport for whose up-gradation Rs.500 crores has just been sanctioned. So two airports will function. And central civil aviation ministry even changed its rule to grant this!

Goa Bench of Bombay High Court in its interim order on 5th May 2010 has directed the state government not to take possession of the land of the respondents. Yet the Goa government has gone ahead with the fresh land acquisition notice number SLAO/Mopa Airport/14/2010/386 dated 04/08/2010 under section 6 of the British colonial land acquisition Act 1894 and Public Hearing have began from today in different villages.

Loca MLA and State Panchayat Minister Babu Azgaonkar plays very interesting role of a broker. He can afford to play this role because he has nothing to loose and all the mighty cash to gain. He is the President of Mopa Nirdhar Samiti set up to demand Mopa Airport as well as President of Annay Nirvaran Samiti set up end injustice in society. Perhaps he is taking care to end injustice done to Pernem landlords and land sharks by villagers protests over giving their land for the airport. Local people here have stayed for 200 years and more and with the stoke of a pen they are to be converted beggars in 'public interest'. "We will have no option other than to commit suicide like the farmers in Andhara Pradesh are doing" told me one of the villagers today in Warkahnd.

Dhangars community is at the political receiving end. Every time they protest their supply is cut by the state authorities. There are 24 houses of Dhangars in Casarvanem and 2 houses in Varkhand. Government has brought pipeline from Tillari dam to their locality but have not released the water. "Now we know that pipeline was for the airport" as one enlighten villager puts it . And Dhangars are now told to pack off from their houses. No one knows tells them where they should be going. Iron of the mater is that in Cansarvanem village special hall was constructed at the cost of Rs. 11 lakh in survey number 255/0 and now government is ready to demolish it. Perhaps this is a mother of ironies.

As a mark of protest villagers boycotted last Zilla Parishad elections by writing letters to election commsiioon offices in Panjim and Delhi. Villagers faced enormous pressure from the henchmen of MLA Babu Azgaonkar duiring this time in the areas of Nanache Pani, Shemeche Advon, Tulaskar wadi and Dhangar wadi. Local panch even threatened to beat up the protesting villagers with sleepers if votes are not casted. What a forceful democracy!

Villagers here work in cashew plantations for three months in a year and demand that Tillari water be supplied to them to boost their agriculture so that they can cultivate for 12 months in a year. "We will bring about revolution in agriculture, some called it green revolution" experienced farmer exclaimed. "Our grazing lands must be protected, they are important for cattle as well as for wild animals. Airport is unsuitable here" determined young man declared. Airport will negatively affect local perennial water bodies and locals wants them to be protected.

Agriculture needs major boost here. Local people have purchased power tillers on loan and only further boost to this sector will be in the interest of the village. They also want the college in their vicinity. Mapusa is too far. Local college operated by private parties has closed down for some years. Government has to start one here.

Villagers are also demanding implementation of National Farming Policy and not to divert the prime agricultural land for industrial and urbanization purpose. In fact the Goa Under secretary, Revenue - I in a letter dated 05/11/2009 erects state 'to make efforts to dis-allow diversion of productive agricultural land for industrial or urbanization purpose in order to protect the discriminate diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural uses.

Villagers are also unhappy over the evasive responses to their RTI queries. There looks to be deliberate attempt to push the Mopa and surrounding villagers to the wall by mobilizing public opinion against them. This needs to be checkmated. This can be done by visiting the green valley by you personally and get to know the reality first hand. You can do it simply by calling up the villagers at the cell number +919923486841.

Sebastian Rodrigues

No comments: