YEAR ENDER 2023: Recalling people’s agitations and angst

This year was significant for Goa when it came to protests -- from saving Mhadei to opposing highway expansion, people’s voice prevailed
Protests that stirred unrest in Goa.
Protests that stirred unrest in Goa.

Throughout history, Goans have shown remarkable courage in pursuing a path towards a better future. Be it the determination of the student agitation for a half ticket in 1978-79 or before that the struggle for a separate identity in 1967.

In 2023, Goans were once again compelled to unite to confront corruption, democratic shortcomings, rising inflation and some ugly politics. And as they marched on the streets to express discontent, they displayed a formidable strength, posing a significant challenge to the ruling government.

Here’s a recap of some key agitations that unfolded in Goa this year:

Protests that stirred unrest in Goa.
There's no place like home in Goa at Christmas time

HANDS UNITE TO SAVE MHADEI 

The Mhadei water dispute has caused frequent and heated friction between Goa and Karnataka. The year 2023 started out with the people of Goa taking to the streets and shouting slogans, “Amchi Mhadei, Aamka Zai”, thanks to the then BJP’s Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai announcing the approval of Karnataka’s detailed project report (DPR) on the Kalasa- Banduri project and Union Home Minister Amit Shah further asserting that the water dispute was ‘solved’ while campaigning in Karnataka.

Leaders across parties united in the fight for Mhadei.
Leaders across parties united in the fight for Mhadei.Photo: Rohan Fernandes

“Entire 2023 we fought for Mhadei,” says activist and historian Prajal Sakhardande who’s been part of saving Goa’s lifeline. “The year started out with a huge public meeting in Virdi-Sanquelim on January 16, 2023 (Goa’s Opinion Poll Day when it decided its own fate back in 1967),” says Sakhardande.

On May 20, 2023, clad in white and blue, many locals joined hands as they formed a human chain along the banks of the river to express solidarity in saving the pivotal waterbody and its ecosystem.

Goans expressed their solidarity in saving Goa's lifeline.
Goans expressed their solidarity in saving Goa's lifeline.Photo: Rohan Fernandes

“The group Save Mhadei Save Goa Front led many such meetings, press conferences and gatherings (at Margao’s Lohia Maidan on June 18). The year 2023 almost seemed to be the year of Mhadei Andolan,” adds Sakhardande.

But despite expressing their dissent and the year coming to an end, Karnataka seems persistent in pushing for an Environment Clearance, while Goa’s BJP government appears complacent on the issue not realizing what’s on gamble.

Protests that stirred unrest in Goa.
Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary conflict back on front burner

DOES DEVELOPMENT BRING UNREST?

Sure it did, and still does when development is against the locals. A classic example has been the National Highway (NH) expansion through the village of Bhoma. While authorities emphasize on its benefits, it’s the locals who have to forfeit their land as the four-lane highway expands into their village affecting their homes and temples.

“In Bhoma, the issue is about the road widening, and the manner in which the government is proceeding in the matter, seems very secretive, keeping people in the dark,” says activist Swapnesh Sherlekar.

Agitated locals at Bhoma are demanding  a bypass instead of the widening.
Agitated locals at Bhoma are demanding a bypass instead of the widening.

And 2023 quite worked in favour of Goans, bringing several cases to light wherein the government has worked against the interest of Goa and more for the benefits of their party’s cronies. That has been the main reason for people’s agitations.

In Shirgao, Mulgao and other surrounding villages the issue has been about mining wherein the government has gone on to auction mines to the same corporate houses that were found to be at the heart of illegal mining practices.

The main reason for people’s agitations has been the government has worked against the interest of Goa and more for the benefits of their party’s cronies.

“These same scammers weren’t just allowed to participate in the auction but were subsequently awarded the leases. The villagers are demanding that their houses, temples, lakes and fields be removed from the mining lease areas, which government is yet to decide upon, but mining companies are fully prepared to start mining,” says Sherlekar.

Further, in Pomburpa and Morjim, the villagers have been constantly demanding the revocation of permissions granted to VIPs – namely Tarun Tehilani the famous fashion designer and Ramcharan Tej the South Indian actor – for the construction of huge villas in forest lands and non-development zones.

Protests that stirred unrest in Goa.
Greed has finished mining, and will do the same to tourism

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE WILL PREVAIL

And rightly so, when it’s a democratic government’s responsibility to work for ‘its people’ and not bow down to real estate biggies. The withdrawal of the Pernem Zonal Plan by the government in October was indicative of how a people’s movement can bring change.

The draft that proposed around 1.4 crore sqm or 21 per cent of Pernem’s green cover being converted for luxury projects was soon met by massive public outrage and a threat to get on the streets if the plan wasn’t cancelled within 24 hours. 

The people of Pernem showed courage and chose to safeguard their green cover.
The people of Pernem showed courage and chose to safeguard their green cover.

“The people sensed the danger and came onto the streets in protest, including the elected representatives, forcing the government to withdraw the same under public pressure,” activist Sherlekar highlights.

What you allow is what is continued, and the locals of Pernem, on the verge of losing their homes and agricultural cover, forced the government to scrap the plan and to become transparent before plaguing their spaces.

Meeting were held to discuss and scrap the zonal project.
Meeting were held to discuss and scrap the zonal project.

BUT, IS THERE HOPE FOR GOA?

“The primary reason why we Goans appear to be fighting a losing battle is our inability and unwillingness or failure to come together and fight unitedly,” asserts Fr Bolmax Pereira.

He adds, “Nothing is permanent, except change. And for it to be a beneficial one, Goans need to come together to guard their resources and heritage. Protecting Goa should be the priority of every Goan and all those who love Goa.”

Protests that stirred unrest in Goa.
Lose yourself in Goa, a destination like no other

Although 2023 seems to have triggered unrest, a brighter future that Goa deserves, will cost its people leaving the four walls of their homes and getting onto the streets before the soothing greens, precious land and its people, all become uncommon sights. It’s intent, however, that’s required, after all let’s not forget its Goa, our home that’s at stake.

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