Nandkumar M Kamat
Who does not know Vaz family in Mormugao? In loss of Goa’s famous baker, ex-MLA and ex-urban development minister John Manuel Vaz, Goa lost a soft spoken, pro people, no nonsense, down to earth charismatic politician. He was an embodiment of true Roman Catholic spirit of honest entrepreneurship by sweat of one’s brow. I knew him first as an Independent MLA from Mormugao during his November 1995 to 1999 tenure and later when we jointly took up the pending issues of giving justice to the traditional baking industry. So when his very close friend and office bearer of All Goa Association of Bakers, Gajanan Golatkar phoned me to announce his death, I was shocked.
Golatkar, hardworking baker and confectioner from Panaji, came to know John Vaz in 1983 and their friendship flourished. “He wanted to see me from his hospital bed just a few moments before his death,” said Golatkar in a choked voice. “Don’t despair,” I told him- “there is lot of work remaining which John Vaz had initiated to keep the Goan bakery industry, the traditional Goan poders employed, secure and the special package deal announced by government in 2011 needs to be delivered.”
John Vaz had attended mass on December 3 in the port town and then suddenly complained about dizziness. All the efforts to stabilise and bring him back did not succeed. He leaves behind an impressive family entrepreneurial, social, cultural and philanthropic legacy. I saw him as a perfect Christian because he had very staunch faith in God’s plan for mankind. He loved his hard work- the ancient tradition of baking bread and keeping people happy and healthy. Golatkar informed me that when their association began, they had 1200 members and as many families employed in baking industry. Today he says barely 600 survive. That’s what John Vaz was concerned with when he visited me at Goa University in 2010 armed with a detailed plan for support, revival and promotion of Goa’s baking industry. “We hardly earn anything on the daily Goan bread- pav, poyi or undo,” he said as prices of flour, fuel, water, electricity, labour have been constantly escalating, adding, “We bakers can manage to keep the head above water because we take orders for cakes, pastries and confectionery. Otherwise there is very little to earn in this enterprise.”
I forwarded to the government led by Digambar Kamat all the demands by his association and the ex-CM made a provision in the budget by creating a special subhead under directorate of industries, trade and commerce. Since 1986 till 1998 as president of the association John Vaz united the stakeholders, rushed to their help when they faced some problems and led several delegations to different authorities but his dream of getting a better deal for bakers of Goa still remains unfulfilled. He worked to get a permanent office premises for the association in Panaji. He ran a model family enterprise-waking up at 5 am and then personally supervise the bread-making operations and ensure prompt deliveries. He knew exactly how many breads could be made from 10 kg flour. With same meticulousness he worked as a politician.
He was hated by many people when he refused to defend the illegal encroachments on the pristine Baina beach which was an exclusive domain of traditional fishermen. Slowly it was encroached upon by labourers from the port and then taken over by all types of migrants and sex workers outside Goa with full political patronage. Once a pride of the whole Mormugao town, the beach needs a new lease of life and it would be a great tribute to the memory of John Vaz if it is fully restored without affecting the livelihood of local traditional fishermen. His family wanted him to become a priest, so young John Vaz had entered the seminary of Saligao. But his heart was not there in spiritual vocation. His interests were in family enterprise, so he left the seminary suddenly and then spent all his energy to expand his business. Having known nook and corner of Mormugao town, he was pained to see the ugly urban transformation that was caused after liberation and development of MPT.
He never compromised his principles and never spared words when he talked about the ill effects of urbanisation of Mormugao. My interactions with him outside the state assembly were very pleasant. As an independent MLA, he was supporting the Congress government led by Pratapsingh Rane. The tourism minister was pressurised by the gaming lobby to move amendment bill to permit offshore gaming or casino business. The gaming lobby was luring the then government with promise of bountiful revenue. I was not sure that independent MLA John Vaz would oppose the amendment act. But he spoke against it. He was very pleased when I broke the news that all the demands of his association were incorporated in the report of task force committee (TFC) on traditional occupations of Goa which I had chaired.
The social welfare department notified the ‘Goenche daiz’ scheme in official gazette on November 10, 2011. But after the BJP government came to power in March 2012 it developed cold feet to implement it because it was not prepared to give any credit to ex-CM Digambar Kamat. It just dismissed all the sincere and hard work put in by selfless members of the task force committee under me. Even today it remains only such scheme for informal sector economy in India. John Vaz was very much pained after he came to know these developments. He had seen how petty personal feuds had ruined Goa’s political culture. The real tribute to him would be to revive the November 2011 ‘Goenche daiz’ scheme and implement the recommendations regarding the welfare of the bakers of Goa.
The government seems to be least concerned to see the drop in the number of traditional bakers from 1200 to 600 in just 20 years. Instead of boosting, promoting existing family businesses, traditional, clean Goan enterprises, our ministers are chasing big brands, highly capital-intensive industries where creation of a single job needs investment of several crore rupees. John Vaz represented the last generation of honest crusaders who championed Goan entrepreneurship. His association needs to continue his memory and legacy, remain united and work tirelessly to get a better deal for local baking industry in particular.