The opposition, civil society as well as inhabitants of the Naqueri plateau at the picturesque, coastal Betul village in South Goa have opened a broadside against the defence ministry for its insistence on using a large swath of industrial land for hosting the Defence Expo (DefExpo) 2016.
A day after Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar formally cleared the file allotting the land to the defence ministry, despite formal opposition by village panchayats in the vicinity of the proposed Expo site, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik on Friday alleged that land, already a scarce commodity in India’s smallest state, was being squandered away by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, a former Goa chief minister.
“The BJP government in Goa has put Goa on sale. It is unfortunate that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is the official broker of the Goa government,” Naik told IANS.
Traditionally held in the national capital, the DefExpo is being shifted to Goa because a new convention centre was being built at its Pragati Maidan venue. The Defence Expo 2016 is the ninth in the series of biennial Land, Naval and Internal Homeland Security Systems Exhibition organised by the defence ministry.
The choice of Goa as the new proposed location got a shot in the arm after Parrikar was elevated to the defence ministry. Parrikar, soon after taking charge had initially ruled in favour of Yelahanka in Bengaluru as the ideal destination for the Expo, because “most of the aero industries and labs are located in Bangalore”.
His flip-flop over the choice has however put the defence ministry now in the cross hairs of agitated Betul-Naqueri village panchayat elders, who have rejected the Expo project.
“We are totally against such a project. The Expo only lasts for some days. So many of the village youths are unemployed. The Expo will not give us any means of employment,” Betul-Naqueri sarpanch Krishna Dessai told IANS soon after the panchayat passed a gram sabha (village assembly) resolution on Sunday (November 8).
The land, which has been handed over to the Defence Minister, is part of a bank of 800,000 sq. metres which was acquired some years ago for setting up an industrial area, a project which eventually never took off.
Nearly 300 acres of land in Betul village, which is known for its stunning coastline, has already been allotted to another central government agency, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Naik believes that only 20 percent of the land is now being utilised and that the defence ministry should take over the remaining land and host the Expo on it.
Naik said, “Earlier, the Goa government had given 300 acres of land to ONGC, but not more than 20 per cent of the land granted to them was utilised. The Expo can be held there instead of taking over more land.”
He added that he would raise the issue with President Pranab Mukherjee, “as he is the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces”.
Durgadas Kamat, general secretary of GenNext, a civil society group, has written letters to all 40 Goa MLAs asking them to debate the land allotment in the forthcoming winter session of the state assembly.
“As leader of opposition and chief minister, Parrikar was against giving land to the central government. He continues to flip-flop in his decisions as Defence minister,” Kamat said.
Parrikar, during a recent media interaction, had said that the DefExpo would be held after completing all legal formalities.
“The DefExpo will be organised only for five days on a temporary basis and I think the villagers would not raise any opposition to the event,” he had said.
Speaking to reporters, Parsekar said the gram sabha resolution had no meaning, because they did not realise the significance of the DefExpo as an event.
“We are giving the defence ministry land, which now belongs to the GIDC (Goa Industrial Development Corporation). The Expo will be held only for some days for which the land will be used,” Parsekar said.