No politics please, we’re priests

August 3, 2008

Don’t misuse the pulpit as a political platform, or get caught in the “hustle and bustle” of political activity, That’s the advice to priests of Goa’s fairly influential Catholic Church, from its head archbishop Raul N Gonsalves. In a four-page circular with potential consequences, the archbishop has urged that the “pulpit should never be used as a political platform to propagate or support any particular political philosophy or ideology”.

In a significant stand where politicians have often demanded their ounce of flesh from the Church, the advise urges priests not to offer “special concessions or considerations” to individuals at church services “merely because they hold particular political or public office”.

“Inside the church, all worshippers are to be treated equally,” says the statement signed by the archbishop.

This is perhaps the first wide-reaching statement of its kind issued by a church, which has shown an increasing interest in taking up this-worldly issues and concerns, but has also drawn flak for allowing its pulpit to be misused — at times — to support the interests of certain politicians.

In the past, certain priests have been seen as taking stands which favour certain politicians, particularly in coastal central Goa and areas like Salcete, where the Catholic vote plays a determining result in the elections.

“Prudence demands that priests and religious are not seen to support or promote any particular political party or ideology or candidates through their public pronouncements or conduct,” says the statement.

It says that common platform could be offered to candidates contesting elections, but church premises “should not be made available for the exclusive use of any one political party or candidate”.

Priests should criticise “unjust social structures, or policies and actions” but not target individuals. It calls on priests to avoid taking a stand on technical issues — like industrial projects — unless they understand the issues.

In the past, the church has taken a stand on environmental issues.

But as the statement points out that the “visible presence” of priests or religious at protest rallies against injustice “even though this is their prerogative as citizens in a democractic society” could provide detractors “with an excuse to communalise the issue”.

It adds that priests have a role as “full-fledged citizens in a democratic polity” but need to be prudent while enlightening the faithful “about the social dimension of the Gospel”.

“As good shepherds, priests and religious are required to be involved in issues of social concern as an integral part of their pastoral ministry (and) have an obligation to conscientize the faithful about their responsibility to work for the establishment of a just social order,” says the guidelines.

It also reminds priests that they “have a duty to denounce publicly unjust socio-economic structures which dehumanize and impoverish men, women and children”.

Besides, it says, priests “need to encourage” Catholics to participate in “honest political activity, including party politics” to “fulfil their prophetic role in transforming society”.

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Bad News from Goa: It’s almost official now. The famous open air raves off

August 3, 2008

It’s almost official now. The famous open air raves of Anjuna have all but fallen silent, giving way to a newer money spinning club culture that rides on the ghost of that reputation. X’Mas night — which two years ago would have seen at least three raves in the undulating ocean front landscape of Anjuna — was silent night in the queen of rave destinations. “Armed police force were posted at all of the four main rave haunts in Anjuna”, says Dr Jawaharlal Hendriques, a one time party organiser. Police headquarters in the capital back up the story. “We allowed no raves this year,” says deputy inspector general of police Ujjwal Mishra, delivering on the official tourism policy of no-raves.

For the Anjuna-Chapora beach hamlets that’s a major turn of the clock.

In the early ‘ninetees, Anjuna was the birth place of Goa Trance, a whole new subculture of techno music put together by a legendary Anjuna hippie-musician resident, Goa Gill.

Blending electronic trance rythm music to the older full moon hippie beach parties — Anjuna and therabouts became the Mecca for Goa trance ravers world over, drawing backpackers and party ravers in their thousands for the all night-all morning raves with its attendant excesses and problems.

Raves divided the bustling tourist villages like nothing before.

Those who dreaded the noise bombarded the press with complaint letters and the police with night phone calls to implement late night sound bans, that had got tighter as sound systems got louder and raves unmanageably more frequent.

Local chai vendors, snack sellers, bar owners, organisers and other stakeholders however gave raves the thumbs-up.

Unrelenting media focus and an official tourism policy that wanted to turn Goa into an upmarket high-spending holiday spot, frowned on the bohemian backpackers and the rave culture.

The free walk-in open air raves are almost extinct, party bonhomie under the stars is over. In its place are a proliferation of clubs that still play trance music, but mix the repertoire to cater to varied taste — sometimes hip hop, evissa house, fusion, even bale bale and “Bollywood nights” for the largely urban Indian club hopper, who wanted a bit of Goa’s rave action but are now stuck with its monetised version.<br />
Since it’s trendy, no one’s complaining. Page 3 celebs, Bollywood, professionals from New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad make one long beeline for Goa’s clubs.

Almost all of the western budget backpackers that favoured the small one-room guesthouses, or hung around street ‘chai’ shops in neighbouring Chapora and Vagator beach have moved further north and south to quieter areas, and most give Goa’s New Year party scene a complete skip.

“Anjuna got 80% backpackers earlier. But they came with their limitations, they hardly spent” says Nandan Kudchadkar who runs Paradiso, a nightclub poised on a wind-blown Anjuna cliff top.

Paradiso still brings in international DJs to dish out Goa Trance in its birthplace — some of them playing unreleased soundtracks to its largely western customers.

The club’s New Year marketing pitch harks back to a “new moon party” — a hint of nostalgia for the full-moon parties of the ‘seventies hippie flower children that first made Goa internationally famous. “Only now the crowd is more upmarket”, says Kudchadkar, in a candid interview.

Paradiso now competes with 20 other clubs in the north Goa belt — at least six of them opened in the past six months, one as recently as a month and half back.

Goa’s oldest club — Tito’s — still has a formidable reputation but it has had to share market space and like other clubs give “add-on attractions” in expensive acrobats, special fireworks, fire eaters et al.

Still at Rs 600 to Rs 5000 cover price that club hoppers cough up during New Year’s week long party, clubowners reckon their costs even out.

If clubbers are 40% of the tourist inflow during New Year’s week — as one estimate surmises — that’s a lot of clubbers and serious business.

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In Goa, the red carpet comes in the form of land

August 3, 2008

Goa is rolling out the red carpet offering land and utilities for a host of hi-tech service industries, from information technology and allied sectors to pharma and biotech SEZs. Adding allure to its panoramic sea view IT Habitat site in the premium Dona Paula area outside Panaji, the government recently earmarked additional 80,000 sq metres for a residential city, club house and mall adjoining the sprawling 184,000 sq m habitat inaugurated earlier this year.

Promoters — the Goa Infotech Corporation are currently upbeat that it managed to net IT major Wipro, who negotiated for an additional exclusive 100,000 sq m near the Habitat. An initial lukewarm response from the IT sector has now given way to some thirty applicants, said IT minister Dayanand Narvekar

His ministry is making its most serious pitch to hitch the state onto the IT bandwagon, after a series of false starts in earlier years. Plans to develop an IT park are also underway, with the government acquiring 600,000 sq m in Mr Narvekar’s constitutency.

A further two IT parks have been identified for SEZs at the state’s premier Verna industrial estate. Site developers Paradism Logistics Pvt Ltd and Macgrow Company Pvt Ltd have signed lease deeds with the Goa Industrial Development Corporation for 265,000 sq m and 200,000 sq m sites, managing director A V Palekar told this newspaper.

IDC has similarly leased 500,000 sq m to Inox Mercantile Company Pvt Ltd to develop a biotech park/SEZ at Verna, 750,000 sq m to K Raheja Company Pvt Ltd for a services park and 132,000 sq m to Planet View Mercantile Comany Pvt LTd for a gems and jewellery park.

Though initially leased as sites for specialised parks, the developers are expected to put in applications to set up SEZs at each of the locations, Mr Palekar said.

Cipla subsidiary Meditab Speciality Pvt Ltd, alloted 200,000 sq m in interior Goa for a pharma park is the first to formally apply for a pharma SEZ. IDC has also firmed up a ninety year lease to Peninsular Pharma Research Centre Ltd for a biotech park at Sancoale in central Goa.

Over the past five years, the state had witnessed a capital flight as industries migrated to states who offered better subsidies under union budget proposals.

Shifting away from manufacturing, Goa plans to now plug into the service, IT, ITES (IT-enabled services) and KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) sectors — seen as a pathway to white collar jobs, identified as its biggest employment sector.

Riding on the sidelines is a Rs 70 crore (Rs 700 million) path-breaking Goa Broadband project to lay fibre optic cables upto each village with corollary broadband connectivity, cable, and high speed telphony.

While the IDC has offered land at Rs 600 per sq m, the Infotech Coporation this week raised its prices to Rs 4800 per sq m for its habitat plots.

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A race to set up five shipboard casinos heats up in Goa

August 3, 2008

A race to set up Goa’s five shipboard casinos has heated up here, with investors rushing to ready boats, procure permissions and find scarce jetty space. State authorities initially planned to license ten offshore live gaming casinos, but scaled down to five in December 2006. “We’ve granted licenses to two boats, the M V Caravela and Hotel Leela Palace. Three more licenses will be granted on a first come first serve basis”, says Goa chief secretary J P Singh.

Twenty-two companies have put in applications, including Goa Coastal Resorts and Recreation Pvt Ltd — reported to be tying in with Nepal casino king Richard Tuttle. Tuttle has announced plans to operationalise a three storey casino luxury ship in Goa by the year end.

On Tuesday, Hotel Leela’s Casino Rio aboard a Singapore-built catamaran ran into further trouble with local protestors. Dredging work to accommodate the boat on a narrow river, crowded with fishing trawlers, was halted for the second time in a year.

The yet-to-be-launched Casino Rio is believed to be partnered with Tuttle’s rival Rakesh Wadhwa. Wadhwa also has interests in three of the seven electronic casinos running from five star hotels in Goa, according to sources.

A third Mississippi river-type paddle wheel boat, bought from the US, is meanwhile being refurbished by owners V M Salgaocar & Sons at a local shipyard.

The company is still processing its papers to operationalise the casino, on north Goa’s Mandovi river, where the Advani Pleasure Cruises-Casino Austria joint venture Casino Goa on board M V Caravela currently enjoys a monopoly.

The local government has upped annual licensing fees from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 crore (Rs 10 to 50 million). In addition it picks Rs 320,000 lakhs a week on an entry tax from 1600 passengers estimated to visit the Caravela.

Electronic casinos using slot machines were legalized in Goa in 1993, while high limit offshore casinos were permitted since 2000. Among the license applicants are construction conglomerate DLF Ltd and Creative Gaming Solutions, Mumbai.

Casino operations are not quite popular with a vocal segment of the local population, who see the indsutry as a corrupting influence. Church and other citizen’s bodies have backed protests against the Leela’s Venture in South Goa.

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Goa’s port in turf war over coastal land claims

August 3, 2008

Goa’s state administration and Mormugao Port Trust which runs its lone port have got into a turf war over territory — both in the sea along this littoral state and over land the MPT claims control over. The immediate provocation for the wrangle came when MPT in a series of local media adverts, claimed it had jurisdiction over waters around the port and a considerable ocean water area far south of the port in Betul. This goes abutting a coastline lined by a series of luxury resorts. Claiming that a notification in the year 2000 had given it further jurisdiction, the port advert notified that all jetties, and developments in the area required MPT’s go ahead.

Coming as it did after the state administration was examining its legal position for locating off shore casinos, the MPT advert was the proverbial red flag to an administration already reeling under citizens’ objections to casino boats on rivers.

Escalating disenchantment to the casinos running along river side quays had thrown up the option of putting them offshore, while ferrying punters by speed boat. The administration was set to pick Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) in annual fees from the five boats, in addition to other taxes.<br

MPT’s claims — made public at this juncture and seen as a move to elbow in — has only angered the state goverment. A cabinet meeting last week took up the matter and set up a special committee to examine MPT’s claims. “Under no circumstances should the port trust impinge on our state rights”, said chief minister Digamber Kamat.

The state has powers over its territorial waters and would assert its rights, Mr Kamat said. To add its own measure of pressure on MPT, the committee would also reexamine MPT’s leasehold lands in the state.

Going on the offensive, Mr Kamat said “all the land in possession of MPT is government land. We will examine the terms of the lease and check if payments are being made”.

Stepping up the pressure on MPT, Goa finance minister Dayanand Narvekar told this correspondent that the committee would look at all the land holdings the MPT is claiming jurisdiction over.

The hundred year old Mormugao port was developed further in 1963 and came under the major port trust act, when iron ore exports picked up in the state. As a single commodity port, handling iron ore, the port has since marginally diversified. The current row marks its firstmajor run-in with the state government in recent years.

MPT officials were unavailable for comment. Its claim to ocean jurisdiction over the Betul area could however be contested, knowledgebale sources said.

This area was once included because of erstwhile ore movement that has since stopped. State authorities could technically petition central ministry for reconsideration of this area, sources said.

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