In Goa’s last election, the Church is believed to have set aside its reservations about the BJP. This time, it is no longer comfortable with the party. The reason, Church leaders say, is not medium of instruction in schools but “the state government’s apathy towards the poor and the downtrodden” and “its eagerness to serve the interests of the big business groups ignoring the concerns of smaller sections as well as environmental concerns”.
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Christians form 25 per cent of Goa’s population and most of them are Catholics.
“The medium of instruction has been raked up unnecessarily. The Church gives its support to poor and the marginalised and sometimes its not supported by the government,” said Zeferino D’Souza, secretary, Goa Archdiocesan Board of Education. Besides Goa, churches and its institutions in Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli comes under Goa Archdiocese.
A recent pastoral letter, read out in all churches under the archdiocese, criticised demonetisation and also red-flagged the destruction of Goa’s natural resources, saying it “points to a material and formation cooperation of the voters who repeatedly elect insensitive and unscrupulous political representatives to legislate and govern every five years”.
“The decisions and the projects getting cleared have not taken care of the interests of the common people but choose to back the big industrialists or major players,” said Fr Savio Fernandes, executive secretary, The Council for Social Justice and Peace of Goa Archdiocese. “For example, when projects are prepared, the only focus would be on investment and jobs. There is no study on its impact on environment, socio-economic situation or demography.”
Villagers who have lost their land and livelihood have formed various agitation groups. All 65 families in Tiracol are engaged in a legal battle to prevent acquisition of their properties by a private party for a golf course. Shack owners’ unions are upset about a delay in issuing licences before the tourism season. Villagers in Betul are agitating over a move to turn land acquired for industrial use into a permanent venue for the defence expo. Goa Industrial Development Corporation had acquired the land in 2007 for an industrial estate that would have provided jobs for villagers, said Freddy Agnelo Fernandes, leader of Orixtt Porjecho Awaz. Following protests after the current government decided to make the land a permanent venue for the expo, the Centre moved the venue for an air show to Bangalore.
Betul is part of Quepem seat. “This issue will play a key role. The government cannot take such a decision unilaterally. The government cannot force people to give up their livelihood in the name of development,” Freddy said. Congress MLA Chandrakant Babu Kavalekar has joined the protesters.
AAP too has been trying to identify with such agitations in various parts of the state. It is counting on voters disillusioned with both the Congress and the BJP. “People are looking at AAP as a serious alternative. People who are looking for change hope it can do something. But, as of now, it will split the votes, mainly of the Congress,” Agnelo said.
In Tiracol, Francis Rodrigues, who led the St Antony Tenant Mundkar Association, has after a year of protests sought judicial intervention in blocking a private hotel group from acquiring villagers’ land for a golf course. “The previous Congress government had given permission, but the sale deed was done during this government,” Rodrigues said. He said the original agreement was for 40,000 sq m but now the firm has inked a deal with the government for 12.5 lakh sq m.
Ravindra Vengulekar, leader of North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners’ Association of single-car owners, flagged another issue: “There are around 20,000 single-taxi owners who rely on tourism; a new move to licence big fleet owners and players like Ola will take away our source of income.”
“… There was no major policy decision that hurt the Church, but we stand by people who want to protect their land and livelihood,” Savio Fernandes said.