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Loot the people: the Goa model for "ease of business"?

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 7:42 IST

Goa's ambitious Mopa airport has run into rough weather.

It was already facing strong opposition from citizens and environmental activists, and now the state's finance department has poked holes in the project.

What's the project?

In 2010, the Digambar Kamat regime decided to build Goa's second airport, spread over 232 acres, in Mopa, a small town on the border with Maharashtra.

The proposal drew opposition from environmental activists, residents of Mopa as well as the wider public. But the Kamat government did not pay heed to the protests.

Neither did the subsequent BJP government of Manohar Parrikar.

Last week, the state cabinet cleared the Terms of Agreement for the project and sent it to the finance department.

After the finance department's approval, the Directorate of Civil Aviation, or DCA, would invite tenders for the project.

What's gone wrong?

The plan went awry, however. When it went to her for approval, Sushama Kamat, Under Secretary, Finance, raised several objections to the Terms of Agreement.

The winning bidder would get all 232 acres for "unrestricted commercial development" without prior permission of the Town and Country Planning department. "But unrestricted land use without any control is not a very desirable option as the land might be used for activities that would not be beneficial to the state and people," she wrote in the file noting.

Handing over such a vast tract of land to private entities would create third party rights that would deprive the state of adequate compensation.

Most shockingly, the agreement states that the winning bidder would retain the entire 232 acres of land if the project is scrapped for some reason.

'Mopa airport will be a death blow to Goa's tourism industry as it will push tourists to Maharashtra'

If the project is delayed, Goa would pay the contractor Rs 3.6 lakh a day. The "delay" has not been clearly defined. Besides, the contractor would continue to hold the land for "unrestricted commercial development".

The contractor is allowed "unrestricted commercial development" at 2.5 FSI, or Floor Space Index. This means, for example, that 250 sq ft real estate can be constructed on every 100 sq ft of land.

What is the state's stand?

Responding to the finance department's queries, the DCA clarified, "The decision on 2.5 FSI was taken by the steering committee chaired by the chief minister. The objective of the clause is to attract maximum bidders and subsequent investment in the state."

The clause allowing the contractor to keep the entire land if the project is terminated, the DAC said, is meant to protect the state from being "burdened" by the huge termination payment it would have to make to the contractor.

The DCA director Suresh Shanbhaug could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts, nor could Sushama Kamat.

Why are activists & locals protesting?

Activists and local villagers have began protesting against the proposal airport ever since it was announced.

"Goa does not need a second airport. The Dabolim airport is one of the best in the country. It has a 3.6 km runway. Any aircraft in the world can land and take off," says Siddhath Karapurkar of the NGO Preserve Goa.

"The government says it wants to construct the second airport because there is congestion at Dabolim. But that problem can be solved by asking the Navy to part with some of its land there."

Father Eremito Rebelo, Convenor of Goans For Dabolim Only, which has been fighting against the Mopa airport says, "This decision will adversely affect the tourism industry in Goa as the proposed airport in on the border with Maharashtra. Dabolim airport, on the other hand, is centrally located."

"The tourist attractions of Candolim, Calangute, Anjuna, Vagator, Morjim, Mandrem, Arambol are all located in north Goa and have been well served by Dabolim airport for decades," Fr Rebelo adds. "But all this will change if Mopa airport becomes a reality as, being an international airport, it will serve the virgin beaches of Sindhudurg in Maharashtra."

"That would be a death blow to the Goan tourism industry, resulting in a massive loss of jobs and livelihood as well as downscaling of the Goan economy."

'Goa doesn't need another airport. Dabolim airport is one of India's best and can handle any plane'

Fr Rebelo also slammed Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar for allegedly interfering in the project.

"It is in blatant violation of the right to function granted to democratic institutions. He announced on 22 October that the airport would get environmental clearance even before the meeting of the Environment Appraisal Committee took place," he said.

"Such high-handed behaviour flies in the face of democratic processes and makes it abundantly clear that the minister has lost sight of the fact that his job is to protect the environment."

The activists point out that the proposed airport also threatens the region's rich bio-diversity and flourishing agriculture. Mopa is fed by 300 perennial streams and is said to be home to several endangered species of flora and fauna.

First published: 3 November 2015, 10:19 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.