Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monumental cheek!

I think that is why activists are called activists. They cannot afford to relax for a single minute. There’s the whole Regional Plan mess, where the RP21 was supposed to be up and running but is not. In the meanwhile the cutting of hills and filling of fields continues. Activists have to be in ten different places at one time. This is woefully inadequate, because a hundred different places in this state are under attack at any one time.

Activists have to keep their eyes peeled. One eye on the builders, and another eye on the government, and somewhere in their peripheral vision they have to keep tabs on us the people of the state too, who are happily digging holes in the base of the boat we are all sailing in.

The latest danger the state faces is the Amendment to the Monuments Act of 1978. Today it is formally known as the Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (amendment) Act, 2010. The Bill had received the Governor’s assent and it was passed in the last Assembly Session.

It would be interesting to know how, when and why Governor S S Sidhu signed it; whether he had his spectacles on; or if he was in a hurry to go off on one of his many cultural tours of the state where he speaks glowingly about how we should protect our heritage and our unique culture.

The amended Act has cunningly changed one word in the old Act and replaced it with two. The old Act had this main clause that the State would maintain the monuments, and see to their preservation and conservation. The Amendment has changed the word “maintain” and has substituted it with many words including these: “re-construction and re-erection” of the monuments.

And get this the Act comes into retrospective effect from March 1 2007. Any fiddling around with monuments like the Tiracol Fort or the Cabo da Rama will be A-okay with the Government now. Not only can they put bright yellow tiles on the ramparts of the fort, they can also break it down and rebuild it to include a swimming pool, spa and casino.

Another clause authorizes the government to permit “any other agency” to put any protected monument to re-adaptive use. Which means you can turn all of the forts into hotels, build structures on the hallowed sites of ancient temples and turn churches into music halls and entertainment centres. Heritage buildings like the old GMC hospital which is used for the IFFI can be given over to any Thapar or Varma or Sharma to build a mall.

The most interesting clause is the highly unconstitutional one which bars courts from taking cognizance of an offence punishable under this Act. This means if they turn the Chapel with the Growing Cross into a musical entertainment centre, you and I will be laughed out of court if we file a suit.

I could not find the Act on the official Goverment of Goa website, but did manage to get this elsewhere. Here’s the link you can check for yourself: http://www.goaprintingpress.gov.in/downloads/1011/1011-22-SI-EOG-2.pdf .

It’s a page of the Official Gazette dated 1 September 2010. It is ironically headlined “EXTRAORDINARY Number-2” any school going child knows what “number 2” means. Scroll down to the third page The Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Act, 2010. Here’s the excerpt about how we cannot approach the court unless the government allows it.

“32A. Cognizance and trial of offence.—

(1) No prosecution for an offence punishable
under this Act shall be instituted except by
or with the previous sanction of the Government.

(2) No Court shall take cognizance of an
offence punishable under this Act, except
upon a complaint in writing made by an
officer generally or specially authorized in
this behalf by the Government.”

So how will it affect Goa? Who needs dilapidated old forts and churches no one prays at anymore? This is what will happen, said an activist. The fort in your area will be turned into a five-star hotel, your quiet village will quickly morph into a rabbit warren of taxi and rickshaw stands, handicrafts and readymade garment stalls, bars, cafes, cybercaf├ęs, sleazy lodges, many houses will be built to house the staff and merchants who set up shop around the area, the poor will erect huts on vacant fields and it will be Calangute repeated in 51 different places in the years to come. That is the worst case scenario.

The best case scenario would be … that the Act is re-amended to the 1978 Act where it is recognized that the monuments are the property of the people of the State, but given to the Archeological Department to look after, maintain, preserve and conserve. And also, that the Governor will get his eyes checked at any of the excellent ophthalmologists we have in the state, so he can read the blatantly unconstitutional amendments he puts his signature to.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Only the corrupt get great responsibility

To watch or not to watch, that is the question. The athletes from around the Commonwealth world have done nothing to deserve a boycott, but with so many star athletes dropping out, die-hard fans may go on a holiday. Yet there’s a lot to be said about the taxpayers and downtrodden of India voicing a protest against such open robbery of public money in the name of the games. Money this country can ill afford, which has been pocketed by corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and international vendors. And it’s not peanuts. The cost of the CWG to the people of India is climbing close to the Rs70000 crore mark almost as much as that other invitation to corruption – National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Rs70000 efficiently utilized would have gone a long way to improving lives of the desperately poor in the country. What was most disturbing was the human excrement on the mattresses in the luxury apartments being readied for the CWG. This is a message being sent out to the haves from the have-nots. This is something the rich and powerful refuse to factor into their headlong rush to cheat and rob the public.

What is the point of creating luxury for the rich when they are surrounded by filth and degradation? It’s happening right here in Goa too, when the filthy rich decided to turn Goa into their private party zone. Life will only get better for the wealthy when life gets better for the poor. This disparity in lifestyles is what led to major social upheavals in different parts of the world at different times in history.

Collapsing over-bridges, filth, bad planning, over spending and an impending inquiry which will go on for decades is just one chapter in the book of corruption of India.

If we don’t watch the CWG as a protest against corruption, then we should also work against a government that has perpetrated one scam after another on this nation. Loans which were waived for desperate farmers went instead to their money lenders, many of who turned out to be members of the ruling party. The mathematics was simple. Banks would not extend credit to marginal farmers. They lent to moneylenders at low interest. Farmers borrowed from moneylenders at exorbitant interest. They committed suicide when they lost their land and still could not repay the loan. Reacting to the suicides the government declared a waiver of loans. The moneylenders and rich farmers benefited from this. They did not pass on the loan waiver to the debtor farmers. Suicide resulted in compensation. So farmers found that suicide turned out to be actually a viable option. It was this macabre situation that created India’s entry to the next Oscars Peepli Live

Where do you start? The Jeep Scandal involving Krishna Menon in 1948? Eight years later he was inducted into the Nehru cabinet without portfolio. Rotting food grains while people starve? And no one is punished? Therein lays the rub. The government goes out of its way to protect the corrupt in its ministries.

The latest instance showing protection of the corrupt has to be the greatest. The brand new Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas is Accused Number 8 in a corruption scam in a palm oil import case. He is out on bail; the case has not been cleared. As Telecom Secretary, Thomas is also under the scanner in the 2-G spectrum scam.

This is the Chief Vigilance Commissioner of the country. Someone who heads a bureau geared to prevent corruption in the nation. The candidate has to be above suspicion. So who selected him?

The selection of the candidate is also supposed to be arrived at through consensus by a committee of three of the (supposedly) most politically powerful people in the land – the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. “Consensus” means all have to agree. The Leader of Opposition BJP’s Sushma Swaraj registered her dissent against Thomas’ selection. She had no issue with the other two candidates. Her dissent was over-ruled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister PC Chidambaram. Proving once again that to be seen to be corrupt is vital for success in government.

Way back in 1939 Mahatma Gandhi distressed by signs of corruption in the Congress even before we got independence made this statement: "I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant." Mahatma Gandhi May 1939.