Friday 5 March 2010

Digambar Kamat's interview to Shalini Singh on Goa


Abrigded version of Shalini Singh's interview with Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat of February 2010 was published in Hindustan Times. Here we share complete uncensored text of this crucial interview in public interest.

“Once the money arrives, we will decide how best to use it,” was Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat’s nonchalant reply while welcoming the Rs 200 crore special allocation package in the Union Budget for Goa to mend its beaches and preserve its green cover.



In an extended conversation with Shalini Singh, he held forth on controversial issues plaguing Goa – unplanned tourism, unbalanced mining and haphazard development policy.

Let’s start with the tourism policy. In recent times, Goa’s image has
received a battering in terms of crimes related to sex and drugs. Is this
the result of an unplanned tourism policy? And are we looking at a shift
in this now?

As far as tourism is concerned, we have to keep in mind that in any
country where it has flourished, other things have also entered – whether
it’s drugs or prostitution. Each country also has to take precautions.
Similarly in Goa, we get 25 lakh tourists every year, out of which 4 lakh
are foreigners, rest are domestic. There are 750 chartered flights. Such
problems are bound to take place. These things happen at a minimum level.
There are good tourists who are confident about coming to Goa. Small
incidents like these give the state a bad name. It should not happen, we
should try to avoid them.
The policy is to provide good healthy sustainable tourism, where people
feel safe and secure. Goans are generally peace loving people and some
incidents damage that image. It’s primarily the beaches which tourists
come for. Earlier many people used to die of drowning, but we have the
beach safety management scheme now which resulted in drowning deaths going
down and lives being saved.

Does Goa need to look at an image makeover?
Goa is an important world tourist destination. We don’t need to sell or
market the state to the people who are coming here. There is something in
the name of Goa, something in the soil here. Here, people don’t face
problems, there’s communal harmony, which you won’t find in any other

What role do casinos play in the state’s tourism plan?
The casino problem was inherited by me. Decisions were taken by the
earlier governments, where people were invited to come and invest in them.
Then they were told not to do that. The problem is that there are many
casinos seen on the Mandovi river. I say move them away so people won’t
have an issue, since locals have apprehensions that Goan boys will indulge in gambling.

In the wake of the recent mining issues that have come up, what will be
the outline of your next mining policy?

Mining was being done since the Portuguese days. In those times, the
thrust wasn’t given on proper infrastructure. There must be a balance
between mining and environment, with minimum damage to the latter. There
must be proper infrastructure in place. People are by and large
environment friendly and have expectations from this. I think we should
construct dedicated roads for mining. We are still finalising a mining
policy, which will spell it all out. Next few years, there will be no new
leases. Leases were given during the Portuguese times, out of which some
low grade mining happened. But there is a good rate now. Government has
appointed a monitoring committee which is visiting areas and strict action
is taken by the chief conservator of forests (CCF) who will curb illegal
mining and see no new permissions are given.

Is there a holistic policy land development policy for Goa? Why are so
many village groups protesting against current land development?

Land development under the Regional Plan 2021 is under finalisation. We
have articulated it to all Panchayats, kept the plan open and also received suggestions. At the moment RP 2011 is the valid document where
permissions have been given. Under 2021, eco-sensitive areas like the
forests, mangroves, cultivated land etc will not be given permission. We
follow a bottom to top exercise, where there’s a plan for people to
discuss and make suggestions for.

The church in the state has had various apprehensions related to tourism
and development. How has the government sought to assuage those?

The church has always been to see that Goa retains its identity. Goa
should remain Goa, even if development takes place.

How has the coastal regulation zone in Goa played out over the years? Do
coastal laws need to evolve?

There are no specific laws for coastal areas in Goa as far as we are
concerned. The centre is aware of the difficulties faced by coastal
states, like they didn’t approve but dropped the coastal management zone
plan in 2008.

Goa is the first state to have a cultural policy. You have been the
culture minister. What is your vision of Goa’s cultural policy?

Goa has always been considered a place where people in the fields of art
and culture flourished only after they moved out of the state. Artists,
singers etc born in Goa had no support. Maharashtra used to sing with
Goa’s voice. When I became the art and culture minister, the focal point
for me was the Goan artist, who should have proper exposure, support and
facilities. We started programmes like talent hunt competitions, schemes
for artists in distress, pension to artists above the age of 60, financial
assistance to, say, a poor boy who wanted to learn from a guru outside.
It’s the government’s duty to support artists. That’s why we now see the
younger generation getting attracted to Goa’s art and culture.