Tuesday 1 August 2017

National Waterways - a death warrant for Goa and Goans?

‘Our Rivers Our Rights’ is a gathering of local residents concerned with about the plans to change rivers of Goa to national waterways of India. 

Goa has been developed and shaped by the knowledge and hard work of our indigenous communities, who have laboured for centuries to create rivers, khazans, paddy fields, lakes and bunds out of the sea and backwaters. Our rivers are the inalienable properties of our village communities and continue to sustain lakhs of Goans even today. Fut’tani, pagels, ogors, manxio, kobule, lambaris, etc are used extensively by thousands of river side fisher folk people to sustain Goan economy and culture. An even larger number of Goans are dependent on the paddy fields along the sides of our rivers for their survival and sustenance. These rivers are not only the lifeline of Goan communities, but are also completely owned, managed and protected by local communities. 

The Union Government is now trying to usurp the rivers from the local communities as ‘national waterways’ for ‘navigation and shipping’. It is also talking about constructing jetties, building concrete walls and creating storage and staging spaces on the banks and paddy fields. However, the local communities that own and manage these rivers are neither informed nor consulted, in gross violation of our Constitution. The Chief Minister cannot dismiss the issue by stating that it is an act of Parliament. Goa Government has given its ‘consent’ to the acquisition of our rivers without protest, while keeping us in the dark. How can our elected leaders betray us and our State so completely? What are the reasons for the secrecy and refusal to consult us in accordance with the law ?

It is clear that the proposal to make our rivers ‘national waterways’ is not only unconstitutional, but will extinguish the rights of lakhs of Goans dependent on these rivers for their livelihoods, or survival. Any attempt to ‘improve shipping’ will displace the local communities at an unprecedented scale. Our Constitution also requires that any acquisition of rights by the State must be preceded by public consultation and hearing the affected persons. Therefore, all the steps taken by the Union and State Governments to secretly usurp the rights of the local residents and acquire our rivers are unconstitutional and illegal. 

We demand that all the steps taken till date to acquire our rivers as national waterways be scrapped, and that the existing ownership, rights and dependence of local communities be first acknowledged by our Governments. We demand that the Goa Government immediately convey to the Central Government the demand for scrapping the six river stretches of Goa from the Schedule to The National Waterways Act, 2016.We also demand that if the Governments have any plans to change the status quo with regard tos our rivers, they must first inform and consult the local communities, as required by the law and Public Interest.

Adv. Ohm Stanley (9657651796)

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