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Let No Road Blockade Happen Again

THE mining dependents, protesting the government’s failure to protect their livelihood following closure of mining operations, laid siege of the two bridges across the River Mandovi on Monday putting thousands of people to great inconvenience. It was quite puzzling to see that the government machinery preferred to play the role of mute spectators for four long hours even as the main connectivity between North Goa and South Goa was cut off. The protestors stopped the vehicles in which students, tourists and commuters were travelling and even snatched keys from several two-wheeler riders. Many Goans and tourists missed their flights. As the blockade coincided with higher secondary and college examinations, students had to face harrowing moments. Anticipating trouble, a number of parents thought it wise to drop their children to a point nearest to the examination centre so they did not miss the examination. The blockade deprived the children of the opportunity for a quick final look at their notes before they entered the examinational hall. The violent atmosphere the protestors caused mental disturbance and they were not able to concentrate.

The three-member committee set up by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar under the leadership of PWD Minister Sudin Dhavlikar completely failed in anticipating the disruption of normal life by the mobs of owners of trucks, mining machinery and barges and their workers. For a long time, the police officers did not seem to have any instructions to act against the unruly protestors who were setting up barricades on the roads to stop the traffic.  A crowd was allowed to gather at the Kadamba Circle when they were supposed to gather at the Azad Maidan. It was only after the mobs went out of control that the police were told to act. Why did Sudin Dhavlikar take so long to give instructions to the district collector and police?  And confusion reigned: Politicians and officials first tried to persuade protestors to disperse; and even as the persuasion was going on the police resorted to lathi charge allegedly in retaliation to stone pelting by a group of protestors. Luckily the buses carrying students were not near the places where the protestors hurled stones. Nearly a dozen persons including policemen were injured.

It is not that the strike call by the mining dependents was spontaneous. The administration was found wanting at every step in dealing with the blockade. Though the morcha call was given on Friday, the government failed to deploy police at the two Mandovi bridges and the Kranti Circle to keep traffic flowing from North Goa to South Goa. It is quite likely that the state government wanted the mass protest to happen and to happen with powerful impact so that pressure was built up on Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, and through him on the central government, to take immediate steps to keep mining going in the state. It is also quite obvious that key politicians including Dhavlikar saw a political profit in not losing the sympathy and support of the thousands of truck and barge owners and their employees as they matter in their constituencies. That is why the politicians made no serious move to stop the protestors from coming to Panaji and gathering in dispersed large groups. It is quite mysterious that the Azad Maidan was kept locked and the protestors were not allowed to enter and gather there. That could have saved the commuters, students and tourists the harassment they had to go through. It was only when the situation went out of control that the administration went into action.

The representatives of truck and barge owners met Gadkari in Panaji on Tuesday and presented their demands to him. A solution, if at all Gadkari can find one, might take some time, because the central government would not like to do something that could attract  Supreme Court disapproval in view of its order for the shutdown of mining until a fair way of granting mining leases is adopted. The mining dependents have shown a propensity to indulge in violence; so the government needs to be vigilant, so they do not harass common people. At the same time, the state government, just in order to keep the mining dependents in good humour, should not do anything that is a shortcut and not within legal framework. The truck and barge owners too have to accept the reality that mining cannot be restarted using shortcuts. Whatever systems are set up for resuming mining should be fair and sustainable and designed to last for a long term. Such systems would be beneficial to mining companies as well as the mining transporters.

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