The meeting at Cotigao Panchayat on Thursday to explain Critical Wildlife Habitat (CWH) to affected people ended up being a war of words between politicians and bureaucrats with the politicians accusing officials of harassing people and the bureaucrats in turn charging politicians of misguiding the people.
A team of Forest Department Officials led by Dr. Shashi Kumar came to the Cotigao Panchayat office to discuss primarily the issue of rehabilitating the inhabitants of Nadkem village which falls within the proposed CWH.
Dr Shashi Kumar while conceding that people as well as animals have a right to live in the forests, however regretted that humans were damaging forests and the animals living therein.
Referring to the present fuel crisis, he cautioned that in future there may be a crisis of water. While clarifying that the officials respect the rights of the humans, he however, made a strong pitch for protecting the forest ecology and the CWH.
However, Cotigao Sarpanch Rajesh Gaonkar questioned the government policies vis-à-vis the people living in forest areas who are backward in comparison with the rest of the society.
Recalling that Goa’s first Chief Minister Dayanand Bandodkar was so moved by the plight of the residents of Cotigao during his visit to the village that he allotted plots to them to carry out their kumeri cultivation.
He pointed out that there are five clusters of habitation in the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary with around 74 families living therein. While pointing out that the Central government had reduced the wildlife sanctuary area from 105 square kms to 85 square kms, he however regretted that the State government was not sensitive to their needs and aspirations.
He said the government’s proposal to demarcate the CWH would affect the Nadkem cluster adversely and without making any alternate arrangement for the inhabitants, the government was seeking to push its proposal and therefore questioned the government’s sincerity in addressing the issues faced by the poor and the marginalized sections.
Poinguinim MLA Ramesh Tawadkar set the ball of defiance rolling by demanding that the government first prepare a proper rehabilitation plan before even considering of evacuating the inhabitants of Nadkem.
He lambasted the government for its failure to resolve the kumeri cultivation issue for the last 40 years and yet coming up with plans like demarcating CWH without making any arrangement to provide alternate source of livelihood to the likely to be displace people.
Former MLA Isidore Fernandes, however raised the ante when he accused the Forest Department officials of harassing the illiterate and simple people living in the forests.
He questioned the Forest Officials’ logic of advocating no violence against animals but they themselves resorting to violence when dealing with humans living in the forests.
However, Dr. Shashi Kumar sought to throw the ball in the people’s court by asking them to decide whether they wanted to live the life they were presently living of whether they wanted their children to experience the benefits of modernization in the shape of using mobile phones, etc.
Speaking to media persons, he also accused politicians of misguiding the simple villagers living in the forest for their own selfish motives.