Monday, 4 February 2019

Defense of Goa’s Rivers and adamant Indian Government


In spite of overwhelming protests across Goa Indian government has still not amended law to delete six Goa’s rivers from the Schedule of the National Waterways Act 2016. This raises many questions on nature of Indian State and relationship with Goa. Brief examination is attempted here to understand prevailing State adamancy.

Goa’s historical situation

Goa was brought under the rule of India in 1961 violating Constitution of India Article 51(d) that read as “The Sate shall endevour to encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration”.  India annexed Goa through military action beginning from 17th December 1961 and ended on 19th December 1961. During this period India sent it nearly 30,000 soldiers to defeat 2,000 Portuguese soldiers. In fact official status of Indian armed entry in Goa is construed as “invasion” at the 987th and 988th meetings of the United Nations Security Council. Indian action was internationally sustained only though an exercise of veto power by USSR. Portugal continued to have strained relations with India for next eleven years till 1972 when Portugal without consulting People of Goa handed over the rights of Governance of Goa to India and application of Geneva Convention to Goa pushed under the carpet of public debate just as rights of People of Goa for self-determination under Article 2 of the UN Charter. India also violated Article 51 (a) “State shall endevour to promote international peace and security” by plans of destroying Goa’s seven rivers and spreading insecurity amongst people of Goa specially fishermen.

This has not been the case with Portuguese colony of East Timor after Portuguese left, Indonesia conquered but due to strong freedom movement from 1998 East Timor is a free nation. Goa was not only betrayed by India and Portugal but also local political and intellectual leadership that failed in courage and clarity to articulate interest of Goa. Dr. Jack Sequeira as well as Dayanadand Bandodkar conspired with each other to politically divide people of Goa as pro-Maharashra and anti-Maharashtra during Opinion Poll. There was no one who was genuinely pro-Goa except perhaps Kid Boxer from Siolim who was arrested from the Tiatr stage in Mapusa in the first year of India Invasion of Goa in 1961 when he sang “Tum bhitor sorlai chukon, mottoloi sukon; dusreacho des pochonam". Kid Boxer, after his arrested was imprisoned for six months in Nasik as per the firsthand account from Anthony Veronica Fernandes from Candolim. Opinion Poll served to create intellectual distraction of masses of Goa. In merger issue that was forced on Goa successfully neutralized stamina people to challenge India’s conquest of Goa. Similar divisive agenda was further strengthened in 1986 language agitation where in intellectuals’ manipulated masses to fight amongst them over language issue Konkani versus Marathi rather than question Indian rule through conquest of Goa.  In fact there was only handful who demonstrated courage as well as clarity of thought to challenge Indian conquest of Goa. One of them was late Pri. Chico Monteiro from Candolim and Goa owes special tribute to this man on his approaching 100th birth anniversary. He was arrested by Indian State, tried and imprisoned in Chandigarh only to be set free by Indian Supreme Court after many decades in prison.

This background is important to understand the plight of Goa’s rivers today under Indian rule. It is under section 2(3) of the National Waterways Act 2016 that Goa Rivers are “hereby declared to be national waterways for purposes of shipping and navigation.” After conquering Goa in 1961 India has intensified its exploitation of Goa through rivers: Chapora, Mapusa/Moide, Mandovi, Cumbharjua, Zuari and Sal river are declared as National Waterways from 26th March 2016. Pranab Mukherjee gave Presidential assent to river grab masquerading as law. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who promised Goa Special Status to defend and protect its environment is all set to preside over funeral pyre of Goa’s seven rivers. This law shifts legal control of these rivers to central government directly. The state government as well as Municipalities and Panchayats has no powers. Goa’s local self governing autonomous institutions – Communidades were destroyed soon after 1961 conquest of Goa by making them legally toothless with introduction of Panchayati Raj system. New Zealand Colonial State of the white imperialism also initiated similar measures and indigenous people – Maoris – fought back for number of generations from 1840 onwards. It is no doubt that The National Waterways Act 2016 reflects speedy transformation of India as a colonial predator state. The resistance movement has to take these factors into account and get prepared for a prolonged anti-colonial struggle for freedom.

Interests and Parties

M/s National Waterways Authority of India approached National Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forest to seek permissions for dredging of Mandovi, Zuari and Cumbharjua rivers. The Authority’s application came up for discussion on 24th October 2016. Authority advocated interests of 228 barges plying in these three rivers and argued that dredging is needed for the smooth movement round the year. Inland Water Transport is expected to handle around 22-24 MTPA traffic by Financial Year 2020 which will be facilitated by current barge fleet (capacity 80 million tons). Initial dredging for maintaining 3.2 m LAD will be sufficient for enabling the vessels to ply round the year. Total dredging quantity will be about 3 Mm³. Dredging to be disposed off beyond the disposal area of Mormugao Port Trust towards Seaside.  National Appraisal Committee directed them to prepare and EIA and conduct Public Hearings in Goa which are not done till date even as Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is vexing eloquent on the issue to set nationalize seven rivers and construct Jetties in Mandovi river.

It may be noted that dredging that was carried on at MPT for deepening of approach channels for bigger ships to facilitate coal imports in Goa to be transported to Karnataka to Jindal’s (JSW) power plant is already proved to have caused environmental damage and NGT in 2017 has stopped further dredging. It is a perverse logic that when dredging is already proved to have caused ecological damage near MPT, seven more rivers be subjected to dredging that will destroy fishing spaces totally in rivers of Goa as evident from draft MoUs available with Captain of Ports on seven rivers under reference. Central Government has never consulted people of Goa before taking the decision on declaring Goa’s rivers as National Waterways. In fact it is the Goa’s mining barges that approached National Waterways Authority of India (NWAI) to get Goa’s rivers under its control for dredging purpose. When the Chairman of NWAI visited Goa on 21st January 2010 he only had discussions with officials connected with MPT, Captain of Ports, Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Goa Barge Owners Association. No Panchayats, Municipalities, Communidades, masses were consulted. This has created tremendous anger amongst people of Goa and indirectly confirms Goa as Colony of India marked for plunder and loot. On 8th August 2016 Fatorda Independent MLA Vijay Sardessai spoke in the Goa State Legislative Assembly for couple of hours criticizing this decision as solely beneficial solely to the corporate houses of Jindals, Adanis and Vedanta, and Goa’s rivers will without fish. In fact it is this issue of rivers that won public sympathy to his newly floated political outfit – Goa Forward Party and won three seats in Goa’s 40 members Assembly making strategically important element for Government formation. However after storming in power and ministerial berths to all its MLA’s Goa forward abandoned its opposition citing compromise with Central government and joined NDA government thereby causing open betrayal of People of Goa.

Credentials of Barges

One report suggests that there are two interest parties behind getting rivers as national waterways in Goa: Cargo and Tourism. While tourism interests are in the form of proposals to marinas, floating jetties and casinos in various rivers of Goa are already questionable, cargo of minerals and coal is of particular official disrepute in Goa. Minutes of the very first meeting of Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) held on 5th October 1988 calls few points for special attention in Goa. Three of them are worth sharing here. The first one: “Pollution of Inland waterways by movement of barges and other vessels.” This means that as early as 1988 barges were reputed to have been causing pollution to rivers mainly Mandovi and its tributaries, Zuari and its tributaries and Cumbharjua Canal. NWAI has become an advocate of barges that are notorious for polluting these three rivers! These barges were serving mining industry to transport ore to MPT for exports; still does with Coal import being an additional major factor. Pollution caused by barges and shipyards is largely under focused in Goa. Cyril George, MPT Chairman put it aptly in an interview to local English daily Herald on 17/06/2015  “People should understand that there are so many shipyards not following environmental laws, besides there are barges along the Zuari river bay and each of these barges has created health hazards, environmental hazards, besides pollution. These aspects are ignored.” Mining has been even more lethal as recorded in the same minutes as “Mining Industry being a major polluting industry in Goa” and needs special attention of GSPCB. Protests of mining pollution affected people were crushed using Police force from the decade of 1970s when mechanization of mining industry began. Interestingly same minutes notes for special attention of GSPCB that “Education of masses on aspects of prevention of pollution”. Today GSPCB has staff of over 140 employees but education of masses on aspects of prevention of pollution was never even attempted.

Likely fall out

Considering masses are mulnivasis and ruling power is with Brahmins of various political parties this situation is understandable. In fact what Vishnu Wagh expressed in his poem “Sudhirsukt” is a reality. Time is pacing up for large scale Parshuram dahan in streets, nooks and corners of Goa. There is an urgent need to disturb and invert this equation between the ruled and the rulers.


Sebastian Rodrigues
28/11/2017 written for Satyagraha magazine in Goa

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