Globalisation Of Goa’s Inland Waterways-I


Nandkumar M Kamat

Nationalisation of Goa’s six ecosensitive and fragile waterways with limited shipping, navigational and ecological carrying capacity is a historic and Himalayan blunder. Goa never asked for it in the first place from 1962-2015. The act says clearly –“3. Save as provided in sub-sections (1) and (2) of section 2, it is hereby declared that it is expedient in the public interest that the Union should take under its control the regulation and development of the waterways specified in the Schedule for the purposes of shipping and navigation to the extent provided in the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985.”

When Goa, Daman and Diu was an Union territory, central government had clearly understood the small ‘economies and ecological scales’ of these waterways and gave up the thought of their nationalisation. But it took diligent care of Cumbarjua canal and promoted upgradation of MPT infrastructure. M S Swaminathan task force committee report on eco-development of Goa, March 1982 also understood what was at stake and didn’t recommend takeover of the inland waterways. Otherwise with just one stroke central government could have invoked the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985 and could have declared six or more waterways in Goa as national waterways. So in other words, government of Goa perhaps wants to tell people about this new benefit of having statehood- accept decisions imposed from top blindly when we are no more an Union territory.

Nationalisation of six waterways may be pushed coercively down the throat of the people. But when the actual damages, the primary, secondary, tertiary, economic, ecological, social, cultural and demographic impacts begin to be felt the present bunch of politicians would have vanished from the scene. Except for the navigable channel, reckless dredging would kill the benthic trophic dynamics and biodiversity of estuaries. High density shipping and navigation, the hazardous container traffic would eliminate the external khazan embankments due to bow shock waves eroding them. Transportation of coal would paint everything green into shades of gray and black. Artisanal estuarine fisheries sustaining 50,000 people would end in few years. Hundreds of flashpoints of conflict would arise along these waterways between local communities and the new beneficiaries.

Here is an appeal to conduct multistakeholder discussions and two district-level non-statutory suo moto public hearings on the secretive draft of the sensitive Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would be signed by Goa Government to seal the fate of our six inland and highly ecosensitive waterways. Perhaps, the present coalition government has no political will to face probing questions from people if they make the MOU public.

On August 9, 2016, Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai said in the assembly- “if the government desires to sign the MoU, then it should do the same only after discussing the document in the House threadbare. The Inland Authority of India would turn out to be a new Mormugao Port Trust for Goa, controlling all the rivers of Goa after their nationalisation”. Goa should have followed the submission made by government of Kerala opposing nationalisation and suggesting alternatives. MPs from Goa should revive, adopt and move the now lapsed amendment bill Bill No LXII of 2016 introduced by ex Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik to denationalise the six waterways. Under tremendous pressure from New Delhi, our politicians meekly capitulated and “welcomed” the bill without detail project reports (DPRs) or well-planned multistakeholder discussions.

Totally misguided by hired consultants and IAS officers ignorant about genesis, hydrography, morphology, ecological history, biodiversity, ecofragility of Goa’s estuarine waterways, Goa government welcomed nationalisation. Goa has already burnt its hands by accepting extended jurisdiction of Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) from Dona Paula to Betul. Being an ancient maritime trader state, Goa actually needs a State Maritime Board on par with Gujarat and Maharashtra and the normal funds from central government to maintain the inland waterways. Goa is quite competent to develop its ports and inland waterways with or without private sector participation (PPP mode). The Parsekar government in 2015 quietly killed the decision of previous government in 2011 to establish a State Maritime Board and converted the whole idea into a farcical entity called “maritime security force”.

Government is clearly scared to make MOU draft public for obvious reasons just as government led by Parsekar was also scared and lied to the legislative assembly, the media and the people about welcoming the nationalisation. The proof is very much there in report No 223 of standing committee of Rajya Sabha, August 12, 2015, on National Waterways bill. The section 24 mentions that “the Committee also sought the views of the 24 state governments who have a stake in the proposed 101 National Waterways. They were requested to furnish the replies by the 15th July, 2015.” The shortest and sweetest response came from Goa as mentioned in section – “Goa -25.2. The Government of Goa informed that they have examined the Bill and agreed upon.” For parliamentarians, legislators, politicians and common man nationalisation of inland waterways in India is just another form of “nationalisation”. For the political ecologists and economists, it’s a smart way the Indian state chose to globalise the critical national waterways. For ecologically fragile Goa with only three ( Talpona, Galjibaga, Baga)  out of 11 rivers having their origin within the state and threatened with submergence of 150 sq km coastal, low lying areas due to sea level rise in next 80 years nationalisation of the six inland waterways is forced backdoor globalisation.

The National Waterways Act, 2016 brought India’s 101 inland waterways in the matrix of globalisation solely focused on integrating the national economy under the coercive writ of the central government in the new global commodity trade routes. Global financial and trade institutions like the World Bank had been applying tremendous pressure on the UPA and NDA governments to get such a bill passed. In Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Shipping, they found the required legislative and executive dynamism. With powerful global forces behind him it was easy for him to allegedly taunt the few voices in Goa expressing genuine concerns on nationalisation of the six inland waterways as “microscopic minority”. However, the go-getter, dynamic, performing minister forgot that his own party -BJP with just 2 MPs in 1984 also was once taunted as a “microscopic minority” (to be continued).