Jyotirao Phooley was born on April 11, 1827 and died on November 28, 1890. In his 63 years of life span he left indelible mark on the history of India as the Nation's greatest reformer. During the course of his reformist project several people and even British Government supported him. However he had to encounter strongest opposition from his close caste Panchayat. The opposition was so fierce that Phooley was expelled from his caste and decision was recorded in the minutes of the caste Panchayat.
Phooley and His wife Savitri carried on the reform work often swimming against the tide of his time. And after some decades found themselves enter into the history text books for their great contribution to humanity. The textbooks were read by the descends of those who expelled Phooley from caste Panchayat several decades after Phooley's death and fresh meeting was called expulsion was revoked and decision entered into the record books of the caste Panchayat!
This is an apt analogy for the yearnings of 54 Villagers of Santa Cruz Village of Goa to debar Architect Elsa Fernandes from attending the village Gram Sabha Meetings. These villagers that includes some elected members of the Santa Cruz Panchayat has not only given unfortunate letter double dated 19 as well as 20 March 2023 to the Director of Panchayat, Block Development Officer, Police Inspector at Old Goa Police Station and Village Panchayat, Santa Cruz. Detail critique of the Said letter is attempted here after probing allegations contained in the letter. The critique is put out in public domain as the Said letter containing several allegations is circulating on social media. We consider the decision to petition against Architect Fernandes unfortunate and regrettable initiative that signatories and their descendents will realize what a blunder it is once history teaches necessary lessons. Currently in defence of democratic norms the letter needs public rebuttals as under:
1. Subject of the letter reads "Complaint against Mrs. Elsa Fernandes for disrupting the Gram sabha dated 26/02/23 and instigating Gram sabha members which could end up in creating law and order situation being a government servant at polythenic College Althino."
It must be taken note that Elsa Fernandes is not just Mrs. She is qualified Architect as well as qualified in Law. This is something these 54 signatories are urged to take note and examine their own qualifications. Elsa has not instigated Gram Sabha. She has questioned following due process of law. The Panchayat authorities could not answer her questions satisfactorily is not valid ground to tag Elsa as an instigator. Further it is found that Elsa is not a government servant at Polythenic College, Althino. There is no Polythenic college anywhere in Goa. Subject of the letter itself is defective. Now let's go to the body of the letter.
2. Sir, We the Villagers of St. Cruz would request you to initiate action against Mrs. Elsa Fernandes for instigating public after being a government servant at polythenic College, Panjim.
Which public has Elsa instigated? What has been the methods of her instigating? It will be recorded in history that 54 Villagers leveled baseless allegations against one of the finest intellectuals Goa currently has and 54 St. Cruz Villagers has fallen short of treating her with respect and dignity that such a highly qualified lady who has dedicated her life for the uplifting of community is being treated so unbecoming of civilized society. No one escapes Judgement of history and these 54 people will have their rewards.
3. "Gram sabha was held in our village on 26/02/2023 where Mrs. Elsa Fernandes put up various points which could be discussed in the committee meetings but instead she of discussing in the Committee meetings she took it up Gram sabha thereby wasting time of the Gram Sabha. Even though in the Panchayat body meeting had rejected her proposal which was informed to her."
54 people here are assessing the merits of the questions Architect Elsa Fernandes has forwarded to the agenda of the Gram Sabha. In their assessment these questions could have been raised in the committee meetings. Goa Panchayati Raj Act has no such restrictions to raise questions. The condition sought to be imposed is arbitrary and baseless and in violation of Panchayat Raj Act. 54 people must touch, read and study Goa Panchayat Raj Act that governs the conduct of the Gram Sabha. Our investigation has revealed that inspite of raising the questions at the Village Development Committee (VDC) meetings these were not answered by the member secretary who is also village Panchayat Secretary. As the leader of the VDC it became the duty of Architect Elsa Fernandes to raise those questions at the Gram Sabha. It was investment of time at the Gram sabha by Elsa and not waste of time as claimed by 54 signatories. If Panchayat body had rejected her proposal then why did Panchayat Secretary read and discussed the first three questions of the total nineteen? Why discussions on Elsa's question occupies four and half pages of the Gram Sabha minutes? Why decision of the Panchayat body rejecting her application at the Gram Sabha were posted to her days after the Gram Sabha? Why letter was not given to Elsa few days prior to the Gram Sabha so that she could have planned her schedule for the day differently? From the 54 signatories why not a single person could collect the letter from the Panchayat and hand over to Elsa before the Gram Sabha?
4. "Mrs. Elsa Fernandes was a Conveyer of the village Development Committee from the year 2017 till date and did not see to it that the registers were updated and during Gram Sabha wanted to know why the Asset Register was not updated there by trying to create a confusion between the members of the Gram Sabha."
Our probe has revealed that Elsa was not the Conveyer of the Village Development Committee.
However letter of 54 reveals that Asset Register remained without being updated from 2017 for six years. This is seriously criminal and further actions such as Vigilance investigation are needed to be pursued against all those responsible. As per the rules it is the duty of member secretary to maintain and update Asset Register of the VDC. It needs to be probed as to why member secretary has not updated Asset Register from 2017.
The question regarding Asset Register was directed to stall proliferation of confusion and usher in winds of clarity.
5. "Mrs. Elsa Fernandes also never informed about the training program of the GPARD to the Member of the VDC even though she herself is a trainer at GPARD. And then asks questions like how many members are trained in the Village Development Committee".
The relationship between Goa Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development (GIPARD) has its own protocol for conducting programs. GIPARD communicates to the Director of Panchayat about the training program. Director of Panchayat then communicates to Block Development Officer (BDO). BDO then communicates to the respective Panchayats to depute its delegates for training. This protocol perhaps has not been known to the 54 who signed the letter. Chairman of the VDC who is the Sarpanch has to question Director of Panchayats as to why Santa Cruz Panchayat has not been invited to the GIPARD training programs.
54 acknowledged the calibre of Architect Elsa to be the Trainer at GIPARD. Instead of mudslinging her it would be great if they collaborate and learn from her rather than go the way Phooley caste Panchayat went about only to be regretted by their future descendents when history books records exemplary contribution of Elsa Fernandes for Goa.
6. "Mrs. Elsa Fernandes being an activist is well aware that about various facts but put up such questions only with the malafied intention of creating confusion and law and order situation in the Gram Sabha".
Elsa Fernandes designated herself in public life as an Environmental Architect. She doesn't consider herself as an activists. Why these 54 are shy and reluctant to refer her to what she is - Environmental Architect? This reveals that there is confusion in the minds of these 54 people. Asking questions is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India Article 19. Minus this right and democracy is non-functional. If her questions were creating law and order situation then which sections of IPC, CRPC, would be attracted? Elsa Fernandes is not only responsible citizen but also has LL.B degree and law is well known to her. Her questions were not creating law and order situation. They were threatening to expose something that vested interests desires to remain hidden against the public interest. Elsa's role has been totally and completely in defence of public interest.
7. "We request you to take necessary action against Mrs. Elsa Fernandes for creating panic and confusion situation for the member at the Gram sabha which could end up in law and order situation, and bar her to attend if it fits in the Panchayat Raj Act. Thanking you"
54 names and signatures
Prayer is for the action against Elsa. 54 claims that she has created panic. They have not given any details as to how many got panic attacks because of her questions and which medical doctor has certified that Elsa's questions are the source of panic? These 54 must understand that all of them put together will not equal Elsa Fernandes. Anticipation is made about law and order situation over Elsa's questions and legal references is made to Panchayati Raj Act. Obviously this law doesn't have scope over criminal matters. This supplies evidence that 54 are either self-confused or induced confused or signed letter without reading the text of the letter.
Panchayats gets degraded like this and drastic efforts are required to overhaul the system. Affairs at Santa Cruz Panchayat putting Architect Elsa Fernandes into uncalled for stress doesn't speak well for the health of grassroots democracy.
Several people who are amongst 54 signatories were not even present for the Gram Sabha meeting on February 26, 2023. All the more reason to indicate that harassment to Architect Elsa Fernandes by Santa Cruz Panchayat draws parallel to the harassment of Jyotirao Phooley by the caste Panchayat.