Tuesday 06 Dec 2022

GROUNDED BY THE AIRPORT... A STORY OF THE LOST PEOPLE OF MOPA

Ajay Thakur I The Goan | JANUARY 26, 2013, 11:06 AM IST

Aasmaan mein udnewaaley, Mitti mein mil jaayega

Kasme vaade, pyaarwafa sab,

Baatey hai batonka kya

(They who fly inthe skies, will grind in the dust. Promises, love, allegiance are mere words.Do they matter?)

The strains of anold Hindi classic waft s from a car stereo through the air as another cold,quiet January morning dawns on Mopa plateau. Only this time, the rustling ofwinds amongst cashew trees, through hay stacks is disquieting. “We grow our ownpaddy, we grew our own lentils. The Gods had told us to live and die here, sowhy are they asking us to move away? Who has asked for an airport here?” asks103 year old Jani Waraq. Jani has seen more summers and crops on theMopa-Varkhand-Casravarnem-Chandel plateau than anybody else has and brings backto the focus the issue of a state sponsored deceit, denying the people the rightto decide what they can do with their own land.

On January 17, theGoa Government has declared under Section 6 of Land Acquisition Act 1894 itsintention to acquire 22 lakh square metres of land at Mopa. While the people hadjust emerged out of an intense battle to save their land at High Court of Bombayat Goa, they were hopeful that the new government would honour their livelihoodissues. Instead, the Goa Government, by declaring its intention to acquire theland for the greenfield airport, has closed all options for negotiations.Worse, nobody even knows of the notice for land acquisition even ten dayslater.

“Even thePortuguese in their 450 year old rule of Goa never grabbed land. From Sonia toParrikar, why can’t they understand this?” asks septuagenarian Sakaharam Gawasat Chandel. Sakaharam and his brothers would climb atop the plateau from theeastern side with parents and neighbours, till the lands with seasonal crops,including paddy, lentils, even mango and cashew were grown. Then Mopa was greenand the rainwater would last for a major part of the year. Now, the canals fromTIllari Irrigation Project pass by a few metres away and have no water for thebalding land.

While the meritsof the Mopa Airport are the subject of feasibility studies and debates, the peoplesof Mopa have been failed. Land acquisition is imperative but why can’t it bedone by paying market level compensation and taking proper consent? It’s abetrayal waiting to unfold in the dozen odd villages of Panchayats of Varkhand,Casaravarnem and Chandel. The naïve villagers have lost faith in government andlook at people who come from Panjim with distrust.

“We saw vehicleson the plateau once in a while but nobody came here,” informs Shalu Waraq atCasarvarnem. Shalu recollects with a twinkle in her eyes how she came to her farmerhusband’s life. The romance and bonding played out in neat plots of landadjacent to the western fringe of the future runway at Mopa. Twenty five yearsafter marriage, all that lives of the romance is peacock feathers strewn allover the small plot of land behind her home with a shocking yellow paintedmarker reminding her that all this is airport property.

But Mopa is notsitting quiet. Markers are being uprooted and traces, if any, of designatedland are wiped out. Officials who came to ask villagers to stop farming werenot only chased away but another season of cropping was done.

“That is all weknow and have been doing” says Geeta Kharvat at Dhangarwadi. “We had warnedBabu Azgaokar when he brought in police to mark the airport boundary thatanybody who walks over our God shall be seen again. He betrayed us and lost.Rajendra Arlekar too will go the same way, ” reminds Narayan Salgaocar atShemenache Advan. As the government swoops into the valley to acquire and takepossession of the land, it is taking away much more. is taking away consensusand care.

For the villagersof Mopa, it is just too much to lose.

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