Church asks new govt to protect Goa *National Consultation on Grass-Root Ecumenism

March 10, 2012 by  
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Manohar Parrikar, New Goa CMGoa, March 10, 2012: The Catholic Church in Goa has urged the state’s new government to protect environment, ban illegal mining and empower local civic bodies.

The government should make several steps to protect forest, paddy fields, mangroves, beaches and villages that are “part of an invaluable and truly irreplaceable heritage” of Goa, the Goa archdiocese’s Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP) said soon after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar took the oath.

In the recent elections, Parrikar’s Bharatiya Janata Party won 24 seats in the 40-member state legislative assembly along with its ally, the Maharashtra Gomantak Party.

In a statement enumerating the Church’s expectations from the government, CSJP executive secretary Fr. Maverick Fernandes says firm steps are necessary for a small state such as Goa where fragile and limited land faces “inappropriate and indiscriminate developmental pressure.”

The council called for a five-year moratorium on sale and conversions of land to help review its carrying capacity and implement necessary development controls.

It also wants the government to ban on illegal mining and appoint an independent commission to review existing mining activity in the state.

The Church wants the government to empower local self-governing institutions in a time-bound manner. It urged the government to enact laws, policies, and programs to address corruption, alienation of traditional communities, right to ownership of resources, depleting natural resources, loss of people’s rights and identity, discrimination against minorities.

The Church council also urged that the government to reformulate the state’s Regional Plan 2021 with people’s participation and protect the Goan people’s traditional livelihoods and preserve their culture and environment.

Another demand is to set up of human rights and minority rights commissions for the state.

– timesofindia

National Consultation on Grass-Root Ecumenism


ecumenismTamil Nadu, March 09, 2012: Jointly organized by the National Council of Churches in India & Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, Madurai

The Church as the ‘Body of Christ’, is called upon to accomplish the vision of Jesus Christ, expressed in his High Priestly prayer, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). This refers to the journey towards “one flock and one shepherd” and also includes the integration of the whole creation. The efforts of ecumeism as church union movements have borne phenomenal fruits since the beginning of the 20th century through the Missionary Movement, Faith & order Movement and the Life & Work Movement. In India it has brought together the conflicting communities and traditions under the banner of Christ’s love. Further, similar ecumenical efforts have resulted in various organic, federal and conciliar church unions at the global and local levels.


The Church as the ‘Body of Christ’, is called upon to accomplish the vision of Jesus Christ, as expressed in his High Priestly prayer, “that they all may be one” (John 17: 21). This refers to the journey towards “one flock and one shepherd”  and also includes the integration of the whole creation.

The efforts of ecumenism as church union movements have borne phenomenal fruits since the beginning of the 20th century through the Missionary Movement, Faith & Order Movement and the Life & Work Movement. In India it has brought together the conflicting communities and traditions under the banner of Christ’s love. Further, similar ecumenical efforts have resulted in various organic, federal and conciliar church unions at the global and local levels.

However, these ecumenical endeavours at the macro level seem to have bypassed the efforts and significance of ecumenism at the micro level. It is in this context that the National council of Churches in India along with the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary has organized a national consultation on the theme “Grass-Root Ecumenism in India Today” at the Rural Theological Institute, Madurai during 26th – 29th February 2012.

As participants of this consultation, representing different Church traditions and Organizations, we

1. Affirm
a. That the twin objectives of Ecumenism are (i) Ecumenism for the divided Church and (ii) Ecumenism for the whole of Creation, and that the efforts in India till date toward this have contributed positively toward ‘OIKUMENE’, not as homogenization but harmonization.
b. That the Grass-Root communities shall be basic stake-holders of Ecumenism in efforts toward Unity not only of Christians but of the whole of Humanity and Creation.

2. Recognize
a. That there exist ecclesial, liturgical and doctrinal differences among various Church traditions, which often divide us.
b. That the way to move forward in the Ecumenical pilgrimage is to actualize here and now, the Kingdom values of unity and peace, by witnessing Christ through our acts of justice and righteousness.
c. That the Grass-Root Ecumenism ought to participate in the struggles for the  rights of people, including the marginalized, the widows, the aged, the otherwise-abled, the transgender, the People Living with HIV & AIDS, the Women, the Youth and the Children, considering them as the subjects and not as the objects.
d. That the grass root ecumenism ought to take seriously Eco-justice and engage in the struggles for Eco-justice.
e. That there are immense sources and resources to foster ecumenism within various church traditions and manifested in the ways of life and celebrations of grass-root which should be captured and documented to be preserved as well as shared.

3. Confess
a. That the race for power, position and possession, divisions within the Church and our limited understanding of Ecumenism have often hindered the fostering of Ecumenism.
b. That we have often have joined hands with the socio-economic and religio-political structures and forces that systematically and systemically exploit and divide the grass-root communities like Dalits, Tribals/Adivasis and Fisher-folk. Further, in whatever efforts of Ecumenism that we were involved, we are  concerned more on what we would earn than what we could offer.

4. Call upon
a. The churches to transcend ecclesial, liturgical and doctrinal differences in order to engage meaningfully in the missio-dei.
b. The churches to move from the comfortable centers of power to the demanding and disturbed peripheries of human existence, to make ecumenism relevant. Further, the churches have to become channels of peace and abundant life, for which we need to practice ‘kenosis’ – self-emptying – and should have the courage to cross boundaries.
c. The Churches to engage in action oriented solidarity with people discriminated on the basis of Caste, Class, Region and Gender and for this to network with the civil societies and peoples’ movements.
d. The churches to condemn and not engage in any acts that promote religious fundamentalism, exclusivism and fanaticism, but rather to consider all as created in the image of God. Rather we need to foster the cultures of ‘listening’ ‘sharing’ and ‘agreeing to disagree’.
e. The churches to constantly build up a second line leadership who would uphold the spirit of ecumenism at the Grass-Root level.
f. The churches to initiate ‘Ecumenical Pilgrimages’ to other ‘denominations’ and traditions and also mutual exchange programmes including pulpit exchanges, in order to learn from each-other and worship together and value indigenous cultures
g. The churches to theologically equip the congregations and especially the children and youth, using various modes of communication, to respect and honour people belonging to sister traditions and faiths.

For the Statement Committee

Rt. Rev. Yakub Soreng                                                         Rev. Dr. G. D. V. Prasad
Convener, Statement Committee                                    Secretary, Statement Committee

Catholic vote gives BJP majority in Goa

March 8, 2012 by  
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goa_catholic_partiesGoa, March 8, 2012: Six Catholic candidates secure seats in Legislative Assembly elections.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian People’s Party, won a majority of seats in Goa state’s 40-member legistlative assembly for the first time, largely on the strength of Catholic voters, analysts have said.

BJP and its allies won 24 seats, while the ruling Congress Party took only nine. Five independents and two members of another regional party also secured seats.

BJP had contested 31 seats with six Catholic candidates, all of whom won. The house now has 14 Catholics.

Father Eremito Rebelo of Goa archdiocese said an exhortation by the Church for ethical voting in the election had an impact on the results.

“There is little doubt that the Church exhortations have helped the BJP victory,” he said.

He added that voters had rejected the BJP when it was in power five years ago, as its polices were perceived to run against Christian interests.

“This mandate is simply in favor of a non-communal BJP,” he said.

Fr Feroz Fernandes, who edits a Catholic weekly newspaper, said he hoped the BJP victory would ease tensions between Christians and the Hindu nationalist party.

However, social activist Soter D’Souza said the “unprecedented” Catholic support “is probably the result of their political immaturity” and that he was skeptical that Catholics in Goa had really gauged “the long-term political and social implications of their decision.”

He added that Goan Catholics were insensitive to the suffering of Christians in BJP-ruled states in the country.

– ucan

The Cat Among The Pigeons

February 21, 2012 by  
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Rev Bismarque Dias, Goa PriestGoa, February 19, 2012: The decision of Rev Bismarque Dias to stand for elections from the Cumbharjua constituency of the Goa Assembly, albeit as an Independent candidate, has set the cat among the pigeons, triggering a heated debate. Those against the priest’s decision have based their arguments on Canon Law, and those for him have referred to the rampant political corruption in Goa.

Since Dias’ decision has widespread ramifications I have done some research before putting pen to paper. I shall address the issue from various angles: – 1. Contextual 2. Canonical 3. Scriptural 4. Historical 5. Ecclesiological 6. Social 7. Psychological 8. Moral. I have relied on public opinion, contemporary realities, sacred scripture, Church teachings as found in Canon Law and Vatican Council documents, and two respected writers, Rev Josef Neuner SJ, the doyen of Indian theologians, and eminent scripture scholar Rev J.N.M. Wijngaards MHM. Specific reference is to Neuner’s “The Prophetic Role of the Laity” (PRL) and Wijngaards’ “Christ’s Idea of Authority” (CIA).

The Context: Dias, a social activist in Goa, has apparently leapt into electoral politics because of the rampant corruption prevalent there. Ironically, Goa has the second highest literacy rate in the country, and an influential number of Catholics. Unfortunately, the most corrupt politicians allegedly involved in murder, rape, drugs, smuggling and money laundering are Catholics! They have a 400-year legacy of Christianity. One is constrained to ask if the “illiterate and backward” voters of Bihar, who opted for Nitish Kumar, are more enlightened and morally upright than the sanctimonious (novenas and rosaries) Catholics of Goa?

If so, has the Rome of the East failed to be a guiding light and moral force in its own backyard? Who is responsible for this pathetic situation? Sri Alan Nazareth, former Indian ambassador, states that the “foundations of religious and ethical values have been poorly laid”.

Rev P.J. Jacob, was an MLA from Kalghatgi in Karnataka from 1983 to 85. Writing in Indian Currents (30th January) he admits that “priesthood is no less corrupt” and “priesthood in every religion is identified with power, pelf and privilege”. That being so, what did he achieve by becoming an MLA, and what does Dias now hope for? Is it not a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Would Jacob and Dias not have achieved more by stemming the rot within the priesthood itself?

Canon Law: Conservatives point to Canon Law that forbids Catholic priests from entering electoral or party politics. Liberals would say that the Sabbath is made for man, and not vice-versa. Rev M.K. George SJ goes so far as to allege that the church made the canonical prohibitions with its own vested interests in mind, and they should be dispensed with! On the other hand Rev Dominic Emmanuel SVD has quoted Canon 285:3 that bars clerics from seeking public office or civil power.

Canon Law has infact drawn a Laxman Rekha for clerics in various spheres. It debars clerics from involvement in whatever is “unbecoming or foreign to their state” eventhough they are “not unseemly” (C 285). Among the forbidden fruit are not just civil power and public office (C 285:3), but also the practice of trade and commerce (C286), active role in political parties and in directing trade unions (C 287:2), and volunteering for the Armed Forces (C 289:1). This is not because they are per se “unseemly”, but because they are “unbecoming” for a cleric. Do these provisions sound unreasonable, vested or arbitrary?

There are laws for everything, including for married people and the laity. If clerics are going to flout Canon Law then what stops the laity from taking over the common assets of the church? We are opening up a Pandora’s Box. Laws may either curtail or confer a right. Speaking of the laity and lay organisations Canon Law avers that “they have the special obligation to permeate and perfect the temporal order of things” (C 225:2). The church exhorts us to “especially esteem those associations whose aim is to animate the temporal order” (C 327). However, even for the laity it is stated “Those who hold an office of direction in political parties are not to be moderators in public associations of the faithful” (C 317:4). Could this be termed discriminatory, restrictive and unjust, or mere jurisprudence? Nevertheless we cannot treat Canon Law in isolation, without also addressing the scriptural, historical and ecclesiological factors.

Sacred Scripture: The Word of God is a powerful, though not exhaustive, benchmark to test the waters. I believe that Jesus’ categorical statement to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (cf Mat 23:21) is the foundation of secularism. In erstwhile Christendom this is seen as the separation of Church and State. Writing to the Romans St Paul also categorically states that even temporal authority is from God, and should be respected by the believers (cf Rom 13:1-4).

Rev Neuner elucidates that in the Old Testament the roles of Priest (who makes the rules), the King (who actually rules), and the Prophet (who interprets the rules in a given circumstance) are distinctly different. In a modern democratic society these same functions are assumed by the Legislature (law making), the Executive (rule of law), and the Judiciary (interpreting or adjudicating on a specific aspect of law). Separation and balance of powers without encroaching on the other’s domain, is critical for a healthy democracy.  What happened during the Emergency (1975-77), when Indira Gandhi assumed absolute power? Sure enough, it corrupted her absolutely. The same danger lurks when a priest (who being part of the hierarchy) actually lays down the rules, governs and adjudicates; and now seeks to add political power to it. It is an explosive mix. Neuner further states that Jesus “persistently refused to identify himself with any institution, be it political (the freedom fighters of Galilee) or religious (the Pharisees or the monks of Qumran)” (PRL Pg 24).

In like manner Wjngaards reminds us that Jesus’ authority was not that of the world (cf Mat 20:25-26, Lk 16:18). Jesus infact opposed worldly power (cf Jn 18:36, 6:15), and symbolically rode a lowly donkey (cf Mat 21:5). He states that “The instruments of secular authority are money, weapons and force. Jesus denies this to his disciples (cf Mat 10:9, 26:52). He abjures competition (cf Lk 18:14), party formation (cf Lk 6:32) and the struggle for rank (cf Mk 10:41)” (CIA Pg 4). Yet Rev Jacob would have us believe that “Jesus was a politician”! I would rather believe Jesus than Rev Jacob.

Lessons From History: Church history is replete with how the hierarchical church, and even the papacy, has often forgotten Jesus’ teachings, in their blind pursuit of power. Emperor Constantine, in the 4th Century, dealt the severest blow to Christianity when he made it the state religion of the Roman/ Byzantine Empire. Pristine Christianity did not purge the empire. The reverse happened. The Church absorbed all the trappings of temporal power, extant to this day, in the honorifics like Eminence, Lordship, and symbols like rings and a coat of arms.

Wijngaards says that during the Middle Ages, Christianity “flourished as a feudalistic society with three groups – nobility, craftsmen and dependents (slaves) – the clergy was considered part of or parallel to the nobility. Most vocations would come from this group, and becoming a priest was therefore not considered a loss” (CIA Pg 15).

I myself have always held that, be it the ancient churches of Kerala or Goa, or the nascent post-colonial churches in the rest of India, the Catholic hierarchy has always been part of the ruling class; be it the Syrian nobility in Kerala, the Brahmins in Goa, or the Gora Sahibs in the colonial era. This mindset has barely diminished. Scratch under the surface and you will find that the clergyman is the Master, not the Servant.

Wijngaards says that “Church history confirms the influence of secular kingship ideas on ruling in the church” (CIA Pg 2). Neuner adds that this resulted in a “process of secularisation that could not be stopped” (PRL Pg 12). “This resulted in the growing redundancy of the church as it gradually lost patronage and control over the secular realm” (PRL Pg 131). “This discomfort led to a revolt of the laity and the Reformation” (PRL Pg 11). To the Reformation I would add the French Revolution and the Bastille cry for “liberty, equality and fraternity’. It was as much directed against the corpulent monarchy as against the opulent hierarchy. The French apathy to the Church’s temporal power is even today manifest in its rigorous enforcement of the separation of Church and State.

Given India’s own penchant for subservience to the ruling elite or high castes, the Church in India should learn the lessons of European church history, and not repeat the same mistake of adding political power to the considerable economic, spiritual, institutional, pulpit and media clout that it already wields. Pope John XXIII was a simple and humble man. That is why he was open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and convened Vatican II in 1962, to correct the course of history.

Vatican II Ecclesiology: A deep anguish that I carry in my heart is that, 50 years after Vatican II, its teachings have neither been expounded nor implemented. We have only had some cosmetic changes in the liturgy or the dress of priests and nuns. The deeper attitudinal changes have fallen by the wayside. It is a vast subject, but I will here restrict myself to the case in point – priests entering into electoral politics. I will therefore dwell on relevant extracts from “The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church” (LG), “The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World” (GS) and “The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests” (PO).

The relevant ecclesiology of Vatican II is based on the following premises: – 1. The secular world is good, not profane as contrasted with the sacred 2. The Church respects the authority and autonomy of secular affairs, including politics 3. Temporal affairs, and more specifically politics, is the legitimate domain of the laity and lay organisations, which the Church respects and promotes 4. Clerics are different, the difference is of divine origin, and serves a unifying purpose 5. The specific role of clerics is clearly spelt out. This is what Vatican II says.

To begin with, it recognises the autonomy of earthly affairs (cf GS 36). It also acknowledges its submission to civil Govt. “She has no fiercer desire than that … she may be able to develop herself freely under any kind of Government which grants recognition to the demands of the common good” (GS 42). It does not even seek the undue privileges of the past when it says, “ The Church does not lodge her hope in privileges conferred by civil authority. Indeed she stands ready to renounce the exercise of certain legitimately acquired rights” (GS 76).

The Church exhorts the faithful to be involved in temporal affairs. It asserts that “The Christian who neglects his temporal duties neglects his duty towards his neighbour and even God and jeopardises his eternal salvation” (GS 43). ”The Church regards as worthy of praise and consideration the work of those who, as a service to others, dedicate themselves to the welfare of the state” (GS 75). Nevertheless the Church also cautions that “It is highly important … that a proper view exist of the relation between the political community and the Church” (GS76). Besides, “The Church must in no way be confused with the political community nor bound to any political system” (GS 76).

While on the one hand recognising the importance of political affairs, the Church simultaneously states that this is the specific role of the laity, as already referred to in Canon Law herein above. It says “The laity, by their very vocation seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs” (LG 31). “The layman is closely involved in temporal affairs. It is therefore his special task to illumine and organise these affairs” (LG 31). “The laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can she become the salt of the earth” (LG 33).

In contrast the Council advocates a different role for the clergy. It states that “Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids them to be conformed to the world” (PO 3). It identifies three special functions for the priest – Proclamation of God’s Word (PO 4), Ministering of the Sacraments (PO 5) and Community Building (PO 6). Had the clergy of Goa fulfilled this three-fold task, I daresay that we would not have seen today’s pathetic scenario, where Catholic politicians are criminals and corrupt.

The Church has spoken through scripture, history, Canon Law and Vatican II. Neuner sums it up in these words, that the Council “in an irrevocable and universal decision opened the church to the modern world … This reality of our world is the realm of the laity” (PRL Pg 27). Is Dias listening?

The Social Aspect: No doctrine can exist in a void. It must be rooted in society. Hence, from the objective I now move to some subjective experiences. I have been actively involved in lay ministry and leadership roles for the last 43 years. As National President of the All India Catholic Union I have travelled all over India, and interacted with the President, Prime minister, CBCI, Papal Nuncio etc at one end, and dalits and tribals at the other end of the spectrum. I now state in unequivocal terms that the hierarchical church in India has not implemented the teachings of Vatican II vis-à-vis the laity, and its role in the modern world. It is loathe to appoint a layperson as a school principal, let alone assigning leadership roles in a parish or elsewhere.

Most of our Catholic politicians are there not because of the support of the church. Ironically, the three highest profile ones – Sonia Gandhi, George Fernandes and A.K. Antony, are not known to be churchgoers! We have had an array of distinguished Catholics as Governors, Chiefs of the Armed Forces, Ambassadors, Supreme Court Judges etc. They were there because of their individual brilliance or competence. Have any of them been proffered a leadership role in the hierarchical church? The answer is an emphatic “No”.

It is this fear of an enlightened and empowered laity that has robbed the church of its prophetic role, to be a game changer. Unfortunately, exceptions notwithstanding, the Catholic Church in India is status-quoist and pro-establishment. It seems happy teaching arithmetic, and geography, and dispensing medicines. Why does it suffer from a serious case of “layophobia”?

The Psychological Dimension: It is all in the mind. A phobia is more often imaginary, not real, playing on individual or collective insecurities. The hierarchical church is so well entrenched, cocooned, secure, that any exposure to lay influence will cause clerical influenza, with a severe bout of sneezing insecurity and coughing uncertainty. It suffers from shuttered doors and cluttered minds. It lacks the humility and simplicity of Pope John XXIII, who dared to open the doors to the world, science, other religions, and the laity. An insecure and uncertain hierarchical church has quickly reverted to clamming up and slamming the door shut on Vatican II ecclesiology.

After clamming, up another psychological factor is the “growing up” syndrome. Having taught the infant laity how to talk and walk, the “Father” now wants the “child” to shut up and sit down! In Transactional Analysis we call this the paradigm shift from the Parent-Child relationship to the Adult-Adult one. Being inured to being “Fathered” by everybody, a priest is unable to adapt from a paternalistic to a fraternal relationship.

Here is what Wijngaards says. “By habit we are accustomed to think of a priest as a father. The idea is so familiar to us that we stop to question its validity. Scripture gives very slender support” (CIA Pg 29). “No where did Christ claim to be the father, nor did he ever describe himself as father” (CIA Pg 30). Infact he expressly forbade anybody being called father (cf Mat 23:9), for he “was like his brothers in every way” (Heb 2:17).

Vatican II echoes a similar fraternal approach. “By divine condescension the laity have Christ for their brother … They also have for their brothers those in the sacred ministry” (LG 32). “They deal with other men as with brothers. This was the way that the Lord Jesus … willed to become like his brothers” (PO 3).

Powerful parish priests are used to dealing with dumb and subservient laity. Omniscient Principals interact with fawning teachers or frightened students. This has further entrenched the father image. But as the child grows up the parent must step down. I don’t see this happening in the church. Hence I strongly oppose any further attempt to foster the paternal role by adding political power to the priest’s existing armoury.

The Moral Force: All other considerations apart, is electoral politics the only way to combat corruption? We have a glittering array of influential and effective leaders who were not politicians, yet irrevocably altered the course of history. Pride of place goes to Mahatma Gandhi, followed by Martin Luther King, Abp Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Jayprakash Narayan, Baba Amte, Vinobha Bhave, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Medha Patkar, and the more recent Anna Hazare. Ironically, the last, lost his credibility and high moral ground the moment his movement became politicised. We have had effective CECs like T.N. Sheshan, James Lyngdoh and the incumbent soft-spoken Dr S.Y. Quraishi. We have had exemplary Chief Justices like P.N. Bhagwati, J.S. Verma and the incumbent H.S. Kapadia. We have had crusading journalists like N. Ram, Arun Shourie, Ramnath Goenka and Tarun Tejpal. There are courageous RTI activists who have exposed corruption, and have often laid down their lives for the cause. They were all catalysts and animators of change.

Conclusion: The conclusion that one arrives at is that electoral politics is certainly not the only option available to Rev (not Father) Bismarque Dias, if indeed he wants to fight corruption and cleanse Goan society. If he still feels so strongly about it, then he should have the courage and humility to renounce the priesthood, and join the ranks of the laity. We will welcome him with open arms. But he would be in for a rude shock outside the security and sanctity of the Catholic ministerial priesthood.

If Dias insists on setting the cat among the pigeons, nobody, other than the electorate, can stop him. I for one don’t like treacherously purring cats. I prefer barking watchdogs that are also faithful to their masters. I also don’t fancy pigeons that keep “dropping” things. I would rather be a dove, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Sacred Scripture, the Church’s official teachings and the lessons of history. I would prefer to learn from Pope John XXIII, and keep it simple.

– chhotebhai

Goans still hope to preserve identity

January 2, 2012 by  
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Goa StGoa, December 30, 2011: Recently marked 50 years since its liberation from Portuguese colonial rule and its merger with India.

At the time of its liberation, on December 19, 1961, India’s then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised to safeguard Goa’s identity – customs, practices and policies inherited from the Portuguese, who ruled the area from 1510.

Down the years, the people of Goa have begun to believe their identity was under threat, though their spirits were lifted when Sonia Gandhi, grand-daughter of Nehru and chairperson of the federal ruling coalition, promised to take up Goa’s demand for special status in India.

Gandhi addressed more than 50,000 people at an anniversary event in the state capital of Panaji.

Special status, Goans say, would restrict outsiders from buying land and property in Goa, the top tourist destination in the country.

For some time now, even Church circles have reverberated with the clamor for protection of Goa’s land and environment.

The principal cause for concern among Goans is the state’s land use plan for the next decade, known as the Goa Regional Plan 2021.

The draft plan was first made public in 2009 and its notification was finally published on October 21 this year.

The Church and village bodies that discussed the plan determined that it paved the way for unbridled construction activity in violation of environment regulations.

On December 16, thousands marched to the state capital to demand scrapping of the plan.

The archdiocesan Council of Social Justice and Peace (CSJP) noted that the plan did not specify forests, scrub vegetation or grazing lands as natural cover.

Such is the case also with areas lying below sea level, locally known as Khazan land that falls under the jurisdiction of Eco-Sensitive Zone 1. People want fields, ponds, creeks, sluice gates, fish farming and salt pans also to be classified under Zone1.

The CSJP opposed depicting cultivable fields in interior villages as settlement zones, a move it said would benefit land developers.

Father Maverick Fernandes, CSJP spokesperson, expressed outrage at the notified plan that he said was “a threat to ecology and the existence of the Goan people.”

The “vague, irrational and contradictory” plan aims to help realtors who can “eventually build structures at waterfronts, hilltops or at places overlooking green paddy fields,” the priest added.

Construction activity boomed in Goa after local people’s Lusitanian laid-back culture began to attract outsiders. Goa continues to draw some 2.4 million tourists every year.

The outflow of Catholics overseas for better prospects has also eroded Goa’s uniqueness and diluted its Iberian environment, a vital component of its tourism industry.

The influx of outsiders has altered Goa’s demographic picture. Its population increased from 637,591 in 1961 to 14.58 million today. At the same time Catholic presence dwindled from 37 percent in 1967 to 25 percent this year.

An unregulated mass influx has led to the wealthy occupying huge tracts of Goans’ land and homes, especially in the last decade.

Goa’s 3,702-square-kilometer territory includes 812 sqare kilometers of usable land, of which 450 of them have already been developed.

Matanhy Saldanha, chairperson for Goa’s Movement for Special Status, says his people feel “more unsafe” after 50 years.

“We fear the imminent loss of our identity” as unscrupulous people destroy Goa’s beauty and serenity in the name of development.

Echoing similar sentiments, Father Feroz Fernandes, who edits a local weekly, laments that Indian and overseas millionaires have made Goa a “devastated land.”

Evidently, with Goa attaining the reputation for being an international tourism hot spot, there’s an insatiable lust for owning property in Goa.

Many housing projects have sprung up in the last decade, some in eco-sensitive and fragile locations. Real estate magnates have cornered prime plots with the connivance of politicians.

More than 70 percent of beneficiaries of this acquired land are immigrants. Celebrities now vie with each other to own a permanent holiday abode in Goa. This has led to land prices increasing a thousand fold in the past six years.

J Rebelo, an official at the sub registrar’s office in Panaji, says rich people from New Delhi and Mumbai are on “a buying spree” in Goa. “We know the price of land is not worth [what is being paid],” he added.

Ironically most houses remain vacant during the year. Their owners just want to flaunt their status by offering them to friends visiting Goa.

The quest for real estate in Goa has put even apartments beyond the economic reach of local people, and migrants who work on construction sites have put pressure on basic amenities leading to social conflicts.

All this has marginalized and nearly displaced the native Goans.

They now pin their hopes on Sonia Gandhi’s promise of special status for Goa to regain its identity.

The author was less than a year old when Goa’s Liberation took place. At 51, and based at Porvorim, near Panjim, he has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years, having served as editor of the Panjim-based Gomantak Times

– ucan

Goa Archbishop extends Liberation Day greetings

December 20, 2011 by  
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Golden Jubilee Year of GoasGoa, December 19, 2011: Archbishop-Patriarch Filipe Neri Ferrao has sent his greetings to the people of Goa on the occasion of Golden Jubilee Year of Goa’s Liberation.

“The Archdiocese of Goa and Daman rejoices with the rest of the population of our State, as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the annexation of Goa into the Indian Union. Freed from foreign rule and united to the Indian subcontinent, Goa has enjoyed, for the last fifty years, the fruits of democracy and self-determination, leading towards prosperity and progress.”

“Freedom is a value that needs to be cherished and capitalized upon. Real freedom is one that enables us to look beyond the entrapments of our present day. And one such entrapment seems to be a certain obsession with the past, which prevents some of us from looking forward and from truly enjoying freedom.”

“Such an obsession can either result in an iconoclastic hatred for whatever was, or in an idealisation of a past that will never return. Fifty years is perhaps long enough to enable us to look at our post-1961 existence dispassionately and to realise that we must give up our hatred as well as our fixations and look forward together to a future that will ensure our wholesome wellbeing and communal harmony.”

“Our 450-year-long encounter with a European country is a part of our history that cannot be changed and that has left an indelible mark on the Goan ethos. Through its chequered development and despite all its undesirable aspects, it has contributed to shape us into a unique people in this land.”

“May the Golden Jubilee celebrations help us to rejoice at this uniqueness and to make the most of it as we forge ahead as mature and responsible builders of our future. We appeal to all sections of our society to work to build a Goa that will truly become a pearl in the crown of Mother India.”

– herald

Council for Social Justice and Peace terms RP 2021 a ‘threat to the ecology and existence of Goans’

December 5, 2011 by  
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Council ForsocialjusticeandGoa, December 1, 2011: The Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), on Thursday, termed the Regional Plan 2021 as notified by the government as a “threat to the ecology and existence of Goans,” saying it was not acceptable in its present form and has called for initiating a process of rectification by December 15.

Addressing a press conference, Fr Maverick Fernandes, Executive Secretary, said that the plan has reignited the fears that it opens the door for real estate development.

The Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), after wide consultations with Citizens and qualified and competent professionals, cannot accept the Regional Plan 2021 in its present form. The CSJP is convinced that the failure on the part of the Government to comply with the demand that Local Bodies should be empowered (legally) to be directly involved in the mapping and development planning of the concerned villages and towns, with the assistance of Government deputed planners and technicians resulted with the Government having to de-notify the RP 2011. The RP 2011 prepared by Consulting Engineering Services (I) Pvt. Ltd. lacked transparency, threatened to destroy ecology, livelihood and culture and also make large-scale demographic changes to the villages.

While the Government of Goa claimed that the appointment of the Task Force led by a renowned architect and a planner was a wise solution to rectify the past errors and produce a people oriented Regional Plan, for the next decade or more; the notified RP-2021 has grossly violated the recommendations of the Task force, as also, the plans and maps prepared by the voters in their respective villages/ towns. The Citizens are outraged because the whole exercise has been distorted and as it stands today, is a threat to the ecology and the existence of the Goan people and further compounded with vague, irrational and contradictory planning policies and laws such as the introduction of MIZs, Eco-tourism Zones, indiscriminate increase in settlement zones, development in Eco-sensitive zones and NDZs, Amendments to Sections 16, 16A and 17 in the TCP Act and the new Building Regulations.

A few examples of glaring distortions are:

– In Release 3 an entire village is shown as VP2, but just the opposite is seen in Release 1, where only part of the same village is listed under VP2 and the other part under the ODP for non-PDA areas.

– In a certain village, the Surface Utilisation Plans show cultivable lands but the tabulation shows that cultivable land as NIL.

– The three main talukas: Bardez, Tiswadi and Salcete, show forest and wildlife as ‘NIL’ – this picture – is it a fact to state that Goa has slipped into such environmental degradation since RP 2001? Or is it an indicator of gross negligence? Or intentional provision for the future?

– The term ECO-SENSITIVE ZONE 1 and 2 are self-explanatory, meaning they are sensitive protected zones. ECO-SENSITIVE Zone-1 are ‘areas of great ecological importance that should not, under any circumstances, be touched. The term ECO-SENSITIVE ZONE-2 represents those areas which are also of ecological importance, in which essential but only minor – interventions could be permitted. Whereas, the term ECO ZONES 1 & 2 can be interpreted in different ways with a leeway like in Appendix XI – which states the permissible land uses in Regional Plan RPG 2021.

The RP-2021 appears to reflect the conflict of interest of some of the members of the erstwhile Task Force as also of the State Level Committee. It is evident that those involved in the preparation of the Notified RP-2021 have ignored the aspirations and genuine recommendations of the Gram Sabhas and Nagar-Palikas, who sacrificed immense time and resources in preparing their correct maps and plans. The Gram Sabhas across Goa have rejected the present version of the RP-2021 which only reflects the frustration and disappointment of the people at being betrayed by the Government.

The CSJP while disagreeing the RP-2021 in its present form, urges the Government of Goa to abolish the destructive and controversial planning policies and amend TCP laws, Goa Land Development and Building Construction Regulations 2010 as also other relevant ones.

All permissions, with the exception of single dwelling units in settlement areas, under the notified RP-2021 (not accepted in its present form), in consonance with Goa Land Development and Building Construction Regulations 2010, must be suspended till the process of rectification is completed. The remedial process must be initiated by the 15th December 2011.  The genuine aspirations of the people for conserving and preserving Goa must be guaranteed in RP-2021.

“The notified RP 2021 has grossly violated recommendations of the task force, as also, the plans and maps prepared by voters in their respective villages/towns. The citizens are outraged because the whole exercise has been distorted and as it stands today, is a threat to ecology and existence of Goans,” Fr Fernandes said adding that the plan was further compounded with vague, irrational and contradictory planning policies and laws such as introduction of MIZs, Eco-tourism zones, indiscriminate increase in settlement zones, development in eco-sensitive zones and NDZs.

CSJP has also hit out at the government for ‘facilitating the interests of builders’ in the plan. “It appears that facilitation (of builders interests) was happening even as the planning was on with the government passing 16 & 16A amendments to TCP Act as well as notification of building regulations,” Fr Fernandes said adding that the plan “opens the door for big real estate development and that the same fears that people have raised in 2011 have not been addressed.’

CSJP has given government till December 15 to begin a process of rectification after which it will decide on future course of action.