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Goa govt’s de-recognising coconut palm slammed by parliament committee

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Panaji: Goa government’s decision to de-recognise coconut palm as a tree was slammed by a parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests on Saturday.

The committee, headed by Rajya Sabha member Ashwani Kumar, blamed the state government for its “tardy implementation of environmental laws and regulation”, and recommended a review of the controversial legislation.

Addressing a press conference, following a day-long discussion with state government officials, tourism and mining industry stakeholders and civil society groups, Ashwani Kumar said: “There was the issue of the definition of forests in which a coconut tree in Goa is not regarded as a tree, is regarded as grass which we found extremely unusual.

“We have recommended that a review of the definition of tree, under the tree protection act be undertaken,” he said.

“In law, we have to see the net effect of things. If the absence of a clear and an unambiguous description of a particular species, leads to its destruction, then surely the law will need to be changed,” he said.

The Opposition as well as civil society has repeatedly accused the BJP-led coalition government of amending the Goa Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984 and dropping the tree status accorded to the coconut palm in order to hasten real estate and industrial development at the cost of the environment.

State Forest Minister Rajendra Arlekar has defended the amendment, saying a coconut palm does not fit the definition of a tree even botanically.

Ashwani Kumar, then a union minister for law and justice in the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government, also found fault with the Goa government’s track record on implementation of green laws.

He said the parliamentary committee has directed that a representative of the union ministry of environment and forests should engage with the state government to “find ways and means to implement in letter and spirit all possible laws intended to protect the environment”.

“We have put on record our displeasure at the tardy implementation of environmental laws and regulation,” he said.

Ashwani Kumar also raised the issue of the Investment Promotion Board, which was set up by the Goa government to facilitate speedy clearances.

“We also discussed about the single window clearances accorded by the Investment (Promotion) Board of Goa whereby a general exemption was given (vis a vis) obtaining of various clearances.

“It’s not the right way to go about it. We believe that in non-notified industrial areas also, the requirement of obtaining all clearances was necessary,” he said.

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Amidst Debates Over State Tree, Goan Coconut Suffers Larger Economic Setbacks

If Coconut is the state tree of Goa, then what is matti? As the debate continues, focus shifts from the primary problem at hand.

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What is the state tree of Goa?
As the debate over the state tree of Goa continues, focus seems to be shifting from the real problem. Wikimedia
  • Each Indian State and Union Territory has its own state seals and symbols that include state trees, animals, birds, etc
  • Goa CM Manohar Parrikar has announced that the Coconut palm will be conferred status of state tree of Goa again 
  • Coconut planters continue to suffer from scanty productions as states turn a blind eye

GOA, AUGUST 1, 2017 : Politicians in Goa continue to debate over the status of the tourist state’s beloved Goan coconut trees. Is it a tree after all?

Following an issue that has now stretched for over a year, Goan agriculture minister and president of Goa Forward Party (GFP) Vijay Sardesai said the Act under which the coconut palm was de-classified as a ‘tree’ would be re-amended.

However, caught between this symbolic fiasco, what is believed to be a larger economic problem is being ignored.

Background

  • January 2016: Coconut loses the status of a tree under the then Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition government
  • August 2016: Government issues notification to farmers to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) before cutting coconut palms
  • June 2017: GFP and BJP release a common minimum program promising to re-designate the coconut palm as a state tree, among other things

The debate began when former forest minister Rajendra Arlekar pointed out that Goa already has a state tree, Terminalia elliptica.

For more than a quarter century now, the matti (Terminalia elliptica), also known as the crocodile bark tree, has enjoyed the status of state tree of Goa. In order to strip it of the status, the government will have to “de-notify the matti tree and then declare the coconut tree as the state tree”, he said.

However, while Arlekar believes that because the coconut palm tree is naturally associated with Goa and is extensively used by the tourism department to promote Goa as a destination, it would be unnecessary to declare it as a state tree, the GFP ministers believe otherwise.

“The promise to make the coconut tree a state tree is part of the common minimum program and it will be implemented”, said Vijai Sardesai, president of the GFP. He is supported by Miguel Braganza, Secretary of the Botanical Society of Goa and former agriculture officer who agrees that most people and foresters don’t know about the matti tree while the coconut is easily recognized and therefore, symbolic.

While this symbolic problem of giving the coconut palm the status of state tree has captured the attention of the state legislature, a larger economic problem is being ignored.

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Coconut production in Goa has remained stagnant in the last fifteen years. Between 2000 and 2015, the quantity of total nuts produced fluctuated within the range of 125 to 129 million nuts per year which did not grow even after the coconut tree was brought under the Forest Act in 2008.

A direct impact of the staggering production is seen on the coconut planters, who do not get enough for their produce. The yield is as low as 27 to 30 nuts per year, in comparison to an expected quantity of 137 nuts per year. This forces planter to sell their property to industrialists and builders.

According to government statistics, at least 50 lakh tourists visit the state every year. This generates a huge demand for coconut, easily fetching a price of up to Rs 35 per piece. Officials believe if the coconut planters get a subsidy, fertilizers, or any other help from the government, they will be able to produce better and earn at least four times more.

ALSO READ: Kerala accounts for 37 percent of total area under Coconut Farming in India, Still Chhattisgarh leads the chart

The coconut palm tree was devoid of any status till 2007 when Goa Bachao Abhiyan started after coconuts trees were felled in Nauxim village. It was only in 2008 that the coconut was brought under the Forest Act to prevent cutting it. However, the Act failed to prevent the feeling of coconuts which is why GFP has started the movement to protect and conserve the coconut tree.

 

Goan legislature ignore the real issue of the state.
Coconut planters are increasingly selling lands to industrialists and builders. Pixabay

While this politicization of coconut preservation has taken a front seat in state politics and the country wonders if coconut is a tree, coconut production and planters are not going to benefit from this development.

Caught in the current turmoil about the state tree, no one is addressing the economic aspect of the situation.

The need of the hour is to go beyond the symbolic gestures. Braganza believes that if benefits provided to mango growers like the subsidy of Rs. 2 lakh per hectare were extended to coconut planters, the situation might improve.

– prepared by Soha Kala of NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala


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Goa government slams NCP leader for ‘ignorance’ on Savarkar

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Panaji: The Goa government on Friday lambasted Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Jose Phillip D’Souza for his ignorance on Veer Sarvakar’s identity.

Savarkar was a freedom fighter and served as the president of the Hindu Mahasabha. He was arrested in connection with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and later acquitted of all charges.

The BJP-led government slammed the state Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Jose Phillip D’Souza after he said he did not know who Veer Savarkar was.

Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar said D’Souza should take lessons on Indian history from his party supremo Sharad Pawar.

Speaking to reporters, Parsekar said D’Souza should spend a few hours in the same prison cell in Andaman Nicobar islands where Savarkar was incarcerated in the pre-Independence era.

“I have spent a couple of inspiring hours there… If he does not know who Savarkar is, he should ask his party president Sharad Pawar about how great a freedom fighter he was,” Parsekar said when asked about D’Souza’s comments on Thursday.

Addressing a press conference at the party’s state headquarters, D’Souza objected to the proposed naming of a government-run art Centre at Baina town, 40 km from Panaji, after Savarkar.

“They want to name the Ravindra Bhavan after Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. My question is, who is he, whether he is from Goa or from another country… we do not know,” D’Souza said.

Parsekar on Friday also clarified that there was no proposal with the government to name the structure after Savarkar.

D’Souza’s comments also irked another top minister, Sudin Dhavalikar of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, who claimed that with his ignorance about Savarkar, D’Souza has “insulted freedom fighters”.

“I want to ask whether D’Souza is an Indian citizen at all if he has not heard of Savarkar,” Dhavalikar said.(IANS)