A politician who doesn’t shy away from talking about his rags to riches story, Minister of Waste Management, Science and Technology, Port and Rural Development of Goa, Michael Lobo talks to NT NETWORK after having completed a year as a cabinet minister
DANUSKA DA GAMA NT NETWORK
Unperturbed by what his political foes have to say about him, or what netizens post, Michael Lobo has managed to do his work with ease. Having completed a year as a cabinet minister, he believes that he’s here to stay in politics and has a list of tasks to fulfill.
From dishwashing to politics
Lobo began earning his daily bread at the age of 13 as a dishwasher in one of the prominent restaurants in Panaji. He then went on to become a waiter, senior steward, and subsequently the assistant manager. He quit at 17 to start off on his own. “First, I started trading terracotta items. Looking at the demand, I then began manufacturing terracotta lampshades, cement design and fiber glass,” says Lobo, who still runs the enterprise, Earth Effects. Having tasted success early on he diversified into interior designing and furniture before getting into construction. He then returned to the hospitality industry to own hotels.
Living in Parra, Michael also used to visit homes to get jobs done in return for some sweets, or coconuts. “I used to help people in the neighborhood. I used to pluck coconuts, collect coconuts, etc. Instead of money I used to get paid in kind. I never did it for money and it was a fun thing yet one that brought happiness to people and me,” he chuckles in nostalgia.
It was when politicians like late Wilfred de Souza needed to gather volunteers who would move about in the constituency that Lobo became part of the group but with no intentions of getting into politics himself then.
Politics came as a natural call
However, observing that he had people on his side, Lobo first got his wife Delilah elected panch member in 2007. “I think that is when I realised what I could do and that people believed in me and my word,” he says.
Always supporting ‘the Hand’, he laments that he joined BJP because Congress never gave him and several other young politicians in the making an opportunity to prove themselves even at the panchayat level.
He thus formally joined the saffron party in 2006 and won the zilla panchayat elections in 2009, thus establishing a strong footing for himself.
All through, he knew the game of numbers, understood the role of religion, communities, etc that were crucial during election time.
“People support me because of my work. We have come up the hard way and we know what poverty is like and what being poor means,” he says. In 2012 he won on a BJP ticket and says the first major work he did, which was a backlog of three MLAs prior to him, was getting the Arpora bridge ready. By the time he won his seat he was running four restaurants and three hotels side-by-side.
Learning and unlearning politics
“I look up to Dr Willy and Manohar Parrikar as my mentors for it is they who supported me when I entered into active politics,” he says. Speaking further about Willy’s politics, Lobo says: “He played very cunningly. A politician always walks from house to house for his election campaign but Willy never did this. Instead he used to manipulate and get votes spilt and emerge a winner.” But despite being known as a master manipulator, Lobo believes that Willy played shrewd and would take up issues and give results by fighting in the Assembly.
“Dr Willy has done a lot of good for Goa. Despite being a Roman Catholic he had more Hindus following him and that is what I learned from him,” he recalls. In fact, he says, Parrikar initially believes that that he would not become chief minister as unlike De Souza, he could not take everyone along with him. “No doubt BJP was initially established as a Hindu party, but in Goa if he wanted to win and come to power he had to have the support of the minorities, and thus a few politicians like Francis De Souza, Matanhy Saldanha and myself on entering the party brought along Catholic supporters too,” he says. “That’s how he won in 2012 with a thumping majority and seven Catholic MLAs won.”
Being a Catholic legislator who worked under Parrikar, Lobo says, that Parrikar never meant to hurt sentiments of people by announcing that holidays on Good Friday and on the Feast of St Francis Xavier should be scrapped. “Actually he was a workaholic and he wanted people to work and in the bargain people’s sentiments were hurt. But, he did apologise,” says Lobo.
“So, will he ever leave BJP now that Parrikar isn’t there and he knows what it takes to be a politician and minister?
Lobo is silent for a moment before he speaks. “I cannot leave BJP now because the party has made me what I am. Where I am standing today is due to the party. I became a minister in the cabinet of Pramod Sawant and will remain with the party,” he says.
However, he says, when it’s time, he will be sent home by people. “No matter which party you belong to if you are not with the people they will send you home. It’s not only religion that will give you votes. All these people contested elections from where BJP could not lose but people showed them their power and gave Congress, independents and regional parties a chance,” he says.
Chakachak Goa: Michael’s mission
As the minister for waste management, Lobo says that a lot of work has been spearheaded with the sole mission of making Goa garbage free. “The waste management ministry has done what the municipality had to do. In Sada, there were hills of waste and over 50 per cent of the waste has been cleared and people have been taking the treated waste as manure for their crops,” he says.
Recalling the several tiffs he had with late Parrikar on waste management, he recalls that back then Parrikar would make convincing speeches of clearing garbage, getting treatment plants. “But after he came to power he was too busy putting things in place and I waited for him to announce about the Solid Waste Management Plant (SWMP). I gave him a three months memorandum to come up with a decision and he kept his word,” Lobo says.
Expansion of SWMP atop Saligao Hill
But now that same plant again has been a reason for hue and cry in Saligao. The villagers are up in arms against the expansion of the plant to treat waste of entire North Goa, which was earlier said to be set up only for the villages of the coastal belt. And Lobo, Dilip Parulekar and Saligao MLA Jayesh Salgaonkar have their own say in the matter.
Giving his view, Lobo states: ”The plant is ours but the access is from Saligao. Former minister and Saligao MLA Dilip Parulekar at that time said the plant should be named Saligao Waste Treatment Plant, hence people think its Saligao’s plant but actually the land on which it is constructed is Calangute. You cannot just ask for a name if you haven’t contributed in any way. It was Parrikar’s baby and I worked on it.”
But why should entire North Goa waste come to one plant? Can’t each constituency have smaller plants that would serve the purpose and not create problems?
Lobo tells us that the High Court had said that every village has to take care of its own waste. But this was a total eyewash as each panchayat erected a shed and no proper collection of waste was undertaken as no panchayat has sufficient funds. “It was then that the Goa State Pollution Control Board started collecting and sending waste from panchayats to cement factories in Karnataka which resulted in less plastic waste in villages,” he says. He however maintains that every panchayat should have their own collection centres.
Goa needs four plants in total
Even so he believes that there is a dire need of a total of four plants in Goa, to create a waste free state. “If the people of Saligao are opposing the expansion, we won’t expand it and we will have to reduce 27 to 20 places/villages sending garbage, how will that be then decided?” he asks before adding that there is a plant coming up in Cacora where minister of power, Nilesh Cabral has identified a place and work has begun. Once this is complete, waste from Quepem, Canacona, Sanguem and other constituencies that can be handled will be taken care of.
“I feel the not-in-my-backyard attitude has to go and people should understand and try to resolve this problem at their end and allow us to do our bit on the larger scale. The Bainginuim plant has to be completed,” he says, adding that Verna Industrial Estate is also in dire need of a plant as all the waste is currently being disposed off in River Sal.
He admits that greed, tourism, and wrong planning has destroyed Goa’s charm by discarding waste in water bodies like ponds, nullahs. “But it’s never too late. If we don’t give Goa the infrastructure needed, this will continue. And while village groups, forums, committees are against setting up of the SWMP plant, none of the panchayats are taking care of their own waste,” he says.
One suggestion he has is that Goa can create a facility where RDF (refuse-derived fuel) from dry waste which is currently sent for free to cement factories in Karnataka can be used to generate green electricity. “This is what is required for the state and I will complete it,” he says, adding that he knows that he will face opposition from people. “In Goa even if you want to widen the road people oppose it. Anything and everything is not seen in the larger picture,” Lobo says.
They say a politician’s place is never too stable, but for now Lobo says that he will work till the end as a politician and social worker. “If people want me to retire I will. I am here to serve the people of Goa. So when they defeat me and want to send me home, I will go,” he says.