Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar’s attempt last week to stop the work on the first phase of the Mopa Greenfield Airport project was sheer theatrics to impress people from his Pernem constituency. No one would approve of a minister marching with his supporters and stopping work on a project that has been approved by his government. Azgaonkar alleges people from Pernem have not been employed by GMR, the company executing the project. Paradoxically, a day after stopping work, Azgaonkar symbolically ‘restarted’ the work claiming the company officials had assured him to hire local youth. It was highly unbecoming on the part of the Tourism Minister to stop a government project. Rather than setting a bad precedent he could have called GMR managers for a meeting to put across his plea for inclusion of local youth in their workforce. Perhaps the protest could have been somewhat acceptable had Azgaonkar been just an MLA. MLAs do have to fight for jobs for people from their constituencies in order to retain support. However, Azgaonkar forgot he was not just an MLA. He is a minister. He should have maintained the dignity of his office.
It is apparent that Tourism Minister took advantage of the absence of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, to do his theatrics for bullying GMR officials. He was pretty sure that the three ministers who make the cabinet advisory committee (CAC) that runs the government during Parrikar’s absence would look the other way if he went and stopped the work to intimidate the GMR officials. And till date no member of the CAC has publicly berated him for his misconduct. Azgaonkar must have patted himself on the back for making a big show for the ‘cause’ of people of his constituency. His dramatic protest was aimed at nothing but pleasing the people of his constituency. And he used rhetoric to boot! He reminded the GMR officials of the ‘sacrifices’ made by the people of Pernem who gave their land for the Mopa project. He wanted the project to pay them back for their sacrifices. He did not realise that construction of an airport and related facilities involves specialised jobs. Besides, the state government has already made provision for training of local youth for the jobs. If GMR was not following this particular term of the contract, that becomes an issue for the whole government, not just for the MLA of Pernem constituency who also happens to be a minister. The CAC needs to come out with a statement about how many local youth have been hired and trained by GMR to work on the Mopa project. Azgaonkar could help the CAC by collecting and furnishing data about the local share of employment in Mopa construction work.
The work on the Mopa airport project began a week ago. It is obvious that GMR would bring in experienced workers to start with and hire locals according to their requirements. Are there youths in Pernem who have worked on an airport project anywhere in the country or abroad? If so, the minister has a case; he should recommend their names to GMR. If that is not the case, the minister – through the state government – should remain vigilant that the company hires local youth and trains them in certain jobs if they have the basic qualification. The danger in intimidating the company is that they might hire locals as day labourers just to show they have Goans on their daily pay registers. Goans are not known to prefer hard labour, one reason why labour has to be imported from other states.
The future of locals with the Mopa airport lies in the jobs that would open up after the completion of the project. Goans are more suited by temperament to the kind of jobs an operational airport provides. A majority of workers at the Dabolim airport are Goans. They work at the airline counters, as ground staff and in other support services. If Azgaonkar is really sincere about providing jobs to the youths of Pernem constituency he should find funds and means to pick up suitable boys and girls for training in the skills that an airport needs in order to run its operations. However, he has shown no interest in taking that kind of trouble and threatened to ‘revolt’ again if GMR does not hire as many local youths as he wants. It is time the three ministers empowered to govern the state during the Chief Minister’s absence wield the political baton to discipline the Tourism Minister. They need to teach him that employment of Goans in a project is the overall responsibility of the state government and not of any particular minister.