In the last decade, Goa was in the national news for controversial reasons. Then, it was in the news for iron ore mines that cut a large part of Goan forests and became the prime reason for floods in Panjim and other parts. These days, coal transportation and its hazardous impact on locals have surfaced as a severe concern for Goans. With the election to the Assembly announced and people voting on February 14, all these issues, from environmental degradation to abuse of people's resources have come to the fore. The like-minded bodies from Goa have joined hands to make these issues the focal point of their political narrative. The people's manifesto of Goans is a big step in this direction.
‘The people of Goa are most disappointed to see that no political party can understand the needs, vision and legitimate rights of the land and people of Goa, for which we will struggle and succeed, with or without your contribution,’ states the manifesto in its opening. The manifesto gives space to issues from various areas, including environment and employment.
Abhijit Prabhudesai, a Goan activist from the Federation of Rainbow Warriors, believes that the manifesto will help build the narrative around real issues. "The narrative of politics has to be corrected to a self-governing, self-reliant one that is all-inclusive of all communities if this planet has to survive," he said. This narrative comes from the struggles of living land communities of Goa and the Goan system of village commons and self-governance to survive.
In concern for the environment, the manifesto pushes the agenda for pollution-free Goa. Coal transportation has become a serious environmental issue in Goa. It has been raised by all opposition parties. The manifesto also demands the complete halting of coal transportation. It announces that the steel plant in Goa must be banned totally.
The manifesto also raises concern on two major issues. It says that the construction of widening of National Highway 17, 4A and 17B shall be stopped. It is also demanding to stop the construction of new power transmission towers in the state.
In some years, legal rules have been changed or surpassed to bring new projects to Goa. Many of those projects have resistance on the ground, but the Central government tried to push it, hand-in-glove with the State government. Waterways in Goa has been one of the many controversial issues for some time now. On this issue, the people's manifesto rejects the prevailing law and demand its scrapping. Also, the manifesto demands that the consent of the gram sabha meeting be made mandatory to finalise any project in the state. Many new projects have been pushed without the approval of the gram sabha. With this demand, the aim is to secure the villages and culture of Goa. The forest demarcation was used by the first mining lobby and later resort lobby. This has had a hazardous impact on Goa's environment, including water resources and agriculture near western ghats. The manifesto states that 'the government will immediately demarcate all the forests in the state as per FSI criteria. No diversion will be allowed in any circumstances in the next ten years.’
This 35-point manifesto also talks about health, education, employment and other services. It also deals with issues of fishermen, especially demanding a ban on LED fishing. These issues are key to the life of the Goan people but have been neglected by all the political parties over the period. So, these groups decided to hand over the copy of the manifesto to all the major leaders of all political parties. They have taken the signature of leaders from BJP, Congress, TMC, NCP, MGP, Shiv Sena, AAP and others. This is, in a way, has reminded the political leadership about its duty towards the welfare of Goa. This is yet another pressure tactic to keep election issue-based.
"Yes, the pressure on parties helps. Only the pressures, struggles, and protests of communities have saved Goa from instant urbanisation and destruction. Elections in 2012 were fought and won on people's issues, namely land-use change. But the struggle of the communities continues, in the face of profit-driven destruction,” Abhijit said.
This time, the Goa election is being keenly watched on a national level because of multiple political parties contesting the battle vehemently. Also, the smallest state of India has created enough buzz as the political message from winning this state would be huge. But in all this uproar, in the noise of leaders changing party like their wardrobes, the real issues are hampered and sidelined. This manifesto is a timely reminder and a force that no lip service would be enough to win the people's hearts.