Ports Bill Gifts Goa A New ‘Union Territory’

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The Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020 was passed by Rajya Sabha on February 11

Nandkumar M Kamat

Goa has entered a period of planning pre-2022 assembly election strategies so not much can be expected from the government which would continue to buy time over all controversial issues, till elections for the eighth state assembly get declared. Today nobody hears anything about the most important demand made by ex MLA late Matanhy Saldanha for getting a “special status” for Goa. He was supported till March 2012 by ex CM Manohar Parrikar but he lost interest to pursue it after Saldanha’s untimely death. Since then, we are watching a scenario which shows how Goa is rapidly losing everything it was always known for.

Of late, the central government is so much dismissive that they couldn’t find anyone qualified in the whole country to be appointed as a full-time new Governor of Goa, the job being left to the amiable, ailing and already stressed Governor of Maharashtra for a record tenure of more than six months so far. This is like treating the Goans like second class citizens because at no time in the past Goa had a part time Governor for six months. Another defeat of Goa is fiscal defeat- the failure to wake up, work hard since 2015 and present a strong case before the fifteenth finance commission (FFC). Whatever that was done during January 2020 when FFC visited Goa was an eyewash. The report of FFC speaks for itself. There seems to be a level of mutual understanding and characteristic diplomatic silence among the ruling and opposition politicians over the disastrous treatment meted out to Goa through unfair and inadequate allocation by the fifteenth finance commission (FFC) for the allocation period of 2021-26.

A grant of Rs. 700 crores to be released over five years for solid waste management and climate change mitigation is a small consolation when the whole state is suffering due to the shutdown of mining activity and recession in tourism. This report shows how Goa has been punished again for being a developed state. To a state without a full time Governor “gifted” with unfavourable plan allocation by FFC here comes another “gift” through the passing of The Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020. The central government by treating the small and ecologically very vulnerable, highly urbanized and densely populated and polluted state of Goa on par with all other larger coastal states has “gifted” a new “Union Territory” or a “state “within the state.

The new “union territory” would come up in a contiguous littoral area of the Arabian Sea -from the Zuari bridge, Cortalim to Dona Paula just touching the tentative boundary of Panaji port and till the old Betul port in south at the mouth of fragile Sal estuary. The April 2016 project pre feasibility report related to a controversial private Marina project of Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) mentions this- “Mormugao Port is one of the early day Port establishments of India and it has water spread of 76850 acres (or 311 square kms.) and Land area 533 acres (22 sq Kms). This area also includes 15 village panchayats with more than 50000 local people dependent on artisanal fisheries.

All the BJP MLAs including the loyalists and the ex-Congress party defectors from the assembly constituencies of Cortalim, Dabolim, Vasco, Marmagoa, Velim, Quepem, Sant Andre, Santa Cruz, Taleigao and Panaji would have to convince their voters in coming weeks about the benefits of this new “union territory”.  They could be ably guided by the Minister for Town and Country Planning, Chandrakant alias Babu Kawalekar because on January 29, 2021 while replying to a starred legislative assembly question from Curtorim MLA Aleixo Reginald, he was on record – “ The likely implications include redundancy of Goa Town & Country Planning Act and the Regional Plan/ODPs prepared there under, Goa Municipalities Act, Goa Panchayat Raj Act, Goa Land Development and Building Construction Regulations, 2010 and Goa Land Revenue Code in respect of area under the ownership of the Board constituted by Major Ports and consequent revenue loss on account of the same”. The MLA had asked- “whether the Government is aware that the Major Port Authorities Bill which has been tabled in the Parliament has potential to usurp powers of the State and local bodies with respect to land use and town planning”.

The sudden announcement of cancellation of the controversial private Marina project by Chief Minister, Pramod Sawant  was a calculated but not entirely unexpected masterstroke. However, he couldn’t do much on MPT because even ex CM Digambar Kamat in 2011 and Manohar Parrikar in 2013 and 2017 had failed to convince the central government under UPA and NDA to curtail the jurisdiction of Mormugao Port Trust (MPT).

The Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020 was passed by Rajya Sabha on February 11. It was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of State for Shipping,  Mansukh Mandaviya, on March 12, 2020.  It seeks to provide for regulation, operation and planning of major ports in India and provide greater autonomy to these ports and replace the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963.  It would apply to the major ports of Chennai, Cochin, Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Kandla, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Mangalore, Mormugao, Paradip, V O Chidambaranar, and Visakhapatnam. Under the 1963 Act, all major ports are managed by the respective Board of Port Trusts with members appointed by the central government.  This Bill provides for the creation of a Board of Major Port Authority for

each major port. 

These Boards will replace the existing Port Trusts. Chapter III of this bill under “Planning and development” clearly mentions implications of “union territory”.

Clause 25 says- “Subject to the rules made under this Act, the Board of each Major Port shall be entitled to create specific master plan in respect of any development or infrastructure established or proposed to be established within the port limits and the land thereto and such master plan shall be independent of any local or State Government regulations of any authority whatsoever: Provided that in case of any conflict between the master plan created by the Board and any local authority, the master plan created by the Board

shall prevail.”

In simple words this is nothing but creation of a state within the state using the present or possibly much expanded jurisdiction of MPT. It is already another lost battle for Goa. Now we need to be ready to follow the “port city cum Megapolis development model” of Singapore and Hong Kong which would come up inside the new “union territory”. Survival and growth of MPT is definitely very important for Goa but this is not the way to develop Mormugao major Port.