Update from Lokshakti Abhiyan in Goa
Pune, February 10 : It was the second day of its engagements in Goa yesterday. The Lokshakti Abhiyan held a meeting with local activists and media persons at 10.30 a.m in TB Cunha Memorial Hall in Panjim, Goa. Medha Patkar, Swati an activist from Goa, noted environmentalist Praveen Shabnis, Frankie Monteiro, Zareen Dacunha, Abhijit Prabhu Desai and Rajendra Kapodkar were the main speakers at the meeting. Rajendra Kapodkar spoke about the disastrous impacts of mining on the environment part from affecting the water resources through contamination and the destruction of the soil and displacement issues, mining has grave implications in the economic front. Most of the iron ore resources are mined and exported to China from India. Mines cannot be “owned” by anyone, it belongs to the public. This was upheld by a Supreme Court judgement in the Reliance Vs Government of India case dealing with rights over gas resources. The Court ruled that the government is only the custodian of natural resources and not the owner. The ownership of shared natural resources is with the public. In Goa, leases for mining are given free of cost, without even auctions. There are 91 mines in Goa making a profit of 20,000 crores in a year, whereas, the total budget of Goa is only 8000 crore for a year!There are 360 mines that are not operative all the time, but given on leases making the total number of mines in Goa close to 450!
Frankie Monteiro spoke about Special Economic Zones in Goa and the struggle that went into the government finally giving an order to scrap all SEZ projects in the State. In 2006, 3 SEZs covering three villages were allotted. Because of the non transparent way in which the allotment was done, people came to know about it only in 2007 after filing an RTI. There was a non violent agitation against this because of the fact that SEZs are autonomous bodies that have their own labour rules and hence gross violations of labour laws, uninterrupted power and water supply and are exempted from taxes. In short, SEZs are a free gateway for companies to strike deals with the government for robbing the country of natural resources in broad daylight. While the agitation against the SEZ allotments happened, the construction in the sites continued uninterrupted. The construction then had to be stopped physically by the people in the Andolan. On 12th April 2006, 4 companies applied for SEZs and within 7 days the allotments came through. The speed with which the allotments were made shows the thoughtless anti people policies passed by the government. It was only in November 2010 that the High Court squashed the order on the allotments. But the land was still not given back to the people of the villages, without whose consent the allotments were made. The companies involved in this have challenged the High court order in the Supreme Court. The demands of the struggle are that the land should be given back to the rightful owners i.e, the villagers and strict disciplinary action should be taken against the companies to set a precedent and prevent this in future. FIRs were lodged in local police stations but not registered. For this, the local courts have been approached by the people fighting the struggle.
Micro Industrial Zones are also a cause for concern as is the issue of the privatization of health centres. In Panjim, the government hospital was shut down and the first medical college in Asia set up during Portugese rule is used only once a year for the International Film Festival! In Raibunder Maternity hospital has been converted into a management institute! It is clear from all these instances, that corruption is a reason and also an outcome of social inequalities and to fight for the right to health, shelter and life can be fought only by tackling all these issues together, through a combined struggle.
At 3 p.m, the Lokshakti Abhiyan went to Khandola and Medha Patkar and team had a small discussion with the farmers of the area who spoke about the issues of water pollution from factories nearby and the resultant low yield of agricultural produce compared to before in the area. Following this, there was a public meeting which was attended by a lot of women and agricultural labourers in which Medha Patkar lent solidarity to their struggle and also spoke about other similar struggles in different parts of the country.
At 7 p.m , The Lokshakti Abhiyan team went to Deen Dayal Hall in Bicholim, Goa for a public meeting where Medha Patkar spoke about issues of land acquisition, SEZs and slum demolitions in urban areas. The public meeting was attended by more than 500 people in Bicholim and ended on a high spirited note with everyone joining in on sloganeering for the victory of our peoples’ movements. Today the Lokshakti Abhiyan is holding meetings with activists and civil society in Pune and will proceed to Aurangabad in evening.
Suhas Kolhekar, Suniti S R, Prasad Bagwe, Nagesh Tripathy, Seela Manswinee , Gee Ameena Suleiman
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