As the Manohar Parrikar-led BJP Government goes ahead with the Request For Quotation (RFQ) from companies interested in developing the Mopa International Airport in its quest to bulldoze the project against the wishes of the Goan populace, the public voice has grown in volume and substance. The “Goans for Dabolim Only” meeting at Lohia Maidan on May 15 saw Fr Eremito Rebello term Parrikar’s fast tracking of the airport as “dadagiri”. The wheel of the “anti-Mopa” agitation has turned full circle.
During the tenure of the last government, a then minister opposed the government’s pro-Mopa view. What we saw at the Lohia Maidan meeting was no different. Two ministers and two ruling MLAs made a desperate attempt to identify themselves with the anti-Mopa sentiment, but ironically they rode to the meeting in their red-beaconed official government cars to attend a meeting that condemned the same government pro Mopa stance. What makes it even more ridiculous is that while Mr Digambar Kamat as chief minister took no proactive step for the Mopa airport, with the exception of denotifying the parking land at Dabolim airport, the present ruling dispensation is in an unholy haste. The stink of a scam is evident, and to borrow from Shakespeare, “something is rotten in the Taluka of Pernem.”
The Forest and Environment Minister is trying to sidetrack the anti-Mopa movement by highlighting the late Matanhy Saldanha’s view that the Indian Navy was illegally occupying Dabolim, while waving a clutch of papers that she says is proof. Sadly, she has not yet had the time to look into her files to find out whether her late husband had changed his opinion that “Mopa airport is a scam to eliminate Goa”. I had been told by the Chief Minister (CM) on the floor of the House that he had spent half an hour with the late stalwart, seemingly insinuating that Matanhy had changed his stand on Mopa before his death. But now Fr Eremito, a long time friend of Matanhy’s, categorically states that Matanhy, till his last breath, was an opponent of the Mopa airport because he sincerely believed that this would spell doom for Goa. Instead of asking for the Navy to quit Dabolim, which task borders on the impossible, it is a commendable stand that Fr Eremito has taken – that of a conciliatory approach of talks with the Navy to hand over certain land which could allow for the required expansion of Dabolim airport. I also want the CM, in view of Fr Eremito’s revelation, to reveal the truth about his confabulations with the late Matanhy. Or will I have to wait for the Government’s reply till the next Assembly Session? Mr Parrikar plans to hoodwink the people of a particular community by naming the South Goa Collectorate Building after the Late Matanhy Saldanha without scrapping ‘the scam’ of the Mopa Airport. Hence Goemkars demand that the Government first scrap Mopa and then name the majestic building after the late Matanhy, and thus keep his legacy alive. The illustrious son of Goa would definitely have preferred Dabolim only.
As is known to all, Dabolim is centrally located and Mopa, which is at the northern tip of Goa, will benefit the neighbouring state of Maharashtra and its hotel and real estate lobbies more than the people of Goa. With the present airport getting a brand new passenger terminal and a parallel taxiway, both of which are already in the pipeline, the handling capacity of Dabolim would go up to nearly four times the number handled last year. Further expansion with the co-operation of the Navy, which could be executed during the next five years or so, would ensure that Dabolim would meet the needs of Goa’s air traffic forever. The need for Mopa will never arise. The Government’s assurance that Dabolim will continue as a civilian airport even after Mopa is commissioned is a deliberate fraud being perpetrated on the people of Goa to cater to certain vested interests. These consist of powerful lobbies from outside Goa and even from abroad, who have invested in land around Mopa and are waiting for the airport to come up. Land has been bought at dirt cheap rates through local agents and politicians, among whom the surnames of Congress and BJP politicians figure prominently. Once the actual non-Goan buyers take possession of these huge tracts of land, the “special status” that is being sought so vehemently, will become a not-so-funny joke.
A quick scan of the all issues underlying the Mopa versus Dabolim argument reflects the fallacy that Mopa will benefit Goa. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a United Nations specialised agency, was commissioned by the government of Goa, in 2007, to study the feasibility of operations of Dabolim and Mopa airports. Their report categorically stated that a dual airport scenario is a second best solution after a single airport operation. An earlier ADPi study of 2005 had concluded that Mopa airport would not be financially viable even if the total traffic of Dabolim were to be shifted there. The ICAO report adds that splitting traffic between Mopa and Dabolim will make both airports unviable. The ICAO report, considering the distances between Mopa and other parts of Goa, especially in the south, had made an expressway across the length of the state a pre-condition for starting the project at Mopa. This expressway would only be an addition to the approximate 6,000 crore Rupees envisaged as cost of the Mopa airport. Contrast this with the 800 crore Rupees, at the most, which the terminal and taxiway at Dabolim would cost. The proximity of a sea port and railway junction to Dabolim makes it a better option for travellers to choose from these options. It has also been reported that a study by the defence services had termed the Mopa airport site unsafe.
The government has not taken any steps to investigate this aspect, even though I had raised a question on this in the last Assembly session. The Mopa airport project has seen the largest single acquisition of agricultural land in Goa – of more than 80 lakh sq m. On one side, the Government talks of Special Status for Goa to protect land ownership of Goemkars and on the other hand dispossess Goan farmers of their land for a pittance. The BJP’s election manifesto, the much publicised Vision Document very clearly states that if Parivartan is ushered in PPP projects would not be allowed if 80 per cent of the land is not bought by the private party promoting the project. In the case of Mopa, although the project is not mentioned in BJP’s manifesto, 80 lakh sq m of land or more has been acquired for a pittance to benefit a private party (most probably a non Goan) to develop ‘the greenfield’ airport, which in essence means a PPP mode of development. The hasty acquisitions even when the Land Acquisition Bill is in the final stages of the coming law indicates huge pecuniary interest of the Government and the spectre of election funds for approaching Lok Sabha polls being mobilised as lobbing fees for the project cannot be ignored.
The Government has tried to hide behind a screen of lies. Misinformation about the land being barren and uncultivable and uninhabited is being spread through all means. A pittance of Rs 35, or thereabouts, per square metre has been paid to farmers as compensation for taking away their livelihood.
The present Government, led by a person who had termed the Dabolim airport parking land denotification as a scam on the floor of the house during the tenure of the past government when he was opposition leader, made a dramatic U-turn and allowed the land acquisition to lapse and make a writ petition in the matter infructuous. Subsequently the same scam was legitimised and even justified with the same lies as were tom tommed by the previous dispensation.
I, as convenor of “GOEMKAR”, and later on the floor of the house, had asked the Government why it was in a devilish hurry for Mopa airport when it was clearly not in the interests of Goans. I had then been criticised by the Treasury Benches for trying to divide Goa on a North-South basis. All ruling MLAs were seen thumping their desks in support of this mischievous allegation. Four of these desk-thumpers were present at Lohia Maidan on May 15. I am happy that they have, better late than never, realised that I was right. I have always maintained that the Mopa-Dabolim issue is a problem created by politicians and that only a political solution can resolve it. The Lohia Maidan meeting, regrettably, lacked a political message.
But it is not too late. The four ruling MLAs, who have seen light, should convince their like-minded colleagues and demand that the Government listens to the peoples’ voice and scraps the Mopa airport immediately. If not, they should step down from the posts they occupy, as people will demand that they choose between Dabolim and the chairs they occupy. Only then will they be seen as true supporters of the cause. Their choice is between being with the people or supporting a Government that cares a fig for the interests of Goa and Goans.