Rethinking Central Package

Sometimes the truth hurts. More so in Goa which is struggling to find a helpline for those affected by mining. Both the BJP and the Congress have been literally falling over each other to convince the affected people that they would approach the Centre with a proposal for aid, until mining resumes.

It took a visit by Union Minister for Heavy Industries, Mr Praful Patel to end the charade. On Saturday, Mr Patel categorically told the media that the Centre would not give any aid to the state. In fact he went a step further when he said, if the state faced a financial crunch due to closure of the mining industry it could not be helped. He suggested that the government should approach the Supreme Court to find a solution. Expectedly, he blamed the Parrikar government for the current crisis that has hit economic growth and state finances, but more importantly, he pointed out that the Shah Commission report, which has listed instances of rampant illegal mining, needs to be discussed properly for a solution to emerge.

Few days back BJP spokesperson, Dr Wilfred Mesquita had told the media that the Chief Minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar had planned to lead an all party delegation to meet the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh so as to sort out mining related problems but added that the Congress had refused the offer. The Congress on its part had told the media that it would petition the Centre for aid and in the same breath accused the Parrikar government for the present crisis. So where exactly does Mr Patel’s statement leave the state government and the chief opposition party, the Congress? In no man’s land. They will now have to think up new ways of assuring the people who are getting restless with the extended closure of the mining industry.

There isn’t a doubt about who is to blame for the mess in the mining industry and the Congress cannot run away from illegalities that grew during its regime. Mine owners and traders will also have to shoulder part of the blame for not raising the red flag when things began to go horribly wrong. However, Goa has gone beyond the blame game and what needs to be sincerely examined is the solutions, and all stake holders, political parties included have a role to play.

The way out though, is not that simple because the problem is rather complicated. As Mr Patel pointed out, perhaps the best way to start is by a special Assembly session to debate the Shah Commission report. The report is available on the internet and the operative parts have been extensively covered by the Press. However, discussions if any have either been conducted through the media or behind closed doors. If the ‘pointing of fingers’ is to stop, then a thorough debate has to take place on the issue. The stoppage of mining will eventually impact on the state’s economy and government finances and if the state does not have a clear response, or if there is no consensus on what needs to be done, then web of lies and half promises will envelope Goa. This is neither in the interest of the affected people nor the industry.

Although pressure is mounting on the state government, it appears that the final decision will be taken by the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Environment and Forests. One can hardly expect the MoEF to oblige the Parrikar government, not after the Chief Minister tried to assert his authority on the issue of central postings. The battle has already begun with the MoEF insisting on a 10 km buffer zone as against the 1 km sought by the state government. Until the Supreme Court gives its verdict on a petition filed by an NGO, the state government must do all it can to build a consensus and this can happen only when the blame game stops and a serious debate on the Shah Commission report takes place in the Assembly.