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Goa polls head for five-star controversy

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

Congress govt amends century-old law to benefit Cidade de Goa.

If there is one state where environmental issues spill over into active politics and can rewrite the destiny of political parties, it is Goa. And history threatens to repeat itself in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections for two seats, over a government ordinance concerning a Supreme Court order on the demolition of illegal structures built by hotels.

In January, the Supreme Court ordered the state government to take steps to demolish certain illegal structures made on land that the court said violated the terms of the Land Acquisition Act. The ruling related specifically to the Cidade de Goa hotel at Dona Paula in North Goa, falling in the constituency of the lone Congress MP from the state.

The ruling said portions of the hotel needed to be knocked down. But hours before the election dates were announced, the Congress government led by Chief Minister Digambar Kamat passed an ordinance amending the century-old law, saving the hotel the need to demolish parts of it and also preventing job losses.

Cidade de Goa Managing Director Anju Timblo had earlier warned 600 labourers of job cuts if the hotel was forced to demolish construction. She had also said the demolition would begin in the first week of March. The hotel authorities did not respond to queries from this paper on their stand after the government ordinance. The workers, meanwhile, met the chief minister earlier this month to discuss the impact the demolition would have on their source of livelihood.

The ordinance has raised demands from the opposition BJP that the same treatment be extended to the over 12,000 buildings facing demolition for violating coastal regulations.

The BJP has promptly named the Congress a “five star” party. Said BJP General Secretary Govind Parvatkar: "We have no problem with the government issuing an ordinance protecting the hotel. But then, why not also protect the 12,000 houses and hotels facing demolition?"

In a statement yesterday, the BJP said, "The people of Goa should understand now that the five star government led by Chief Minister Digambar Kamat will go to any length to provide relief to the rich but would turn a blind eye if the poor suffer in this state.''

Environment activist Claude Alvares called both parties equally anti-people in this case. The Congress is ready to distort a law to circumvent a court ruling, but the BJP wants other violations also to be condoned, he said.

Goa’s bid to develop offshore casinos has also come under attack, with the BJP leading the charge. BJP leader in the state Manohar Parrikar trained his guns on the state government for allowing offshore ships to host casinos in violation of laws.

Last year, mass protests forced the Congress government to revoke orders to allot land for special economic zones. The government was barely over the embarrassment when the land violations under coastal regulations surfaced.

BJP had both seats in Goa in 1999 but lost the North Goa seat in 2004 and said it hopes to regain it this time. The land issues are expected to expose the government, says Parvatkar.

Native Goan and architect Dean D'Cruz is a member of the task force advising the state government on land policies.

"We're rated nine on the ecological scale, which is just a little behind the Brazilian rain forest. There is a realisation that we need to protect this heritage. If we lose it, we've lost the basic charm of Goa," he said.

Meanwhile, for the people of Goa, the 2009 Lok Sabha elections are not about the economic slowdown, secularism or security. They are about saving Goa.

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First Published: Sat, March 07 2009. 00:10 IST