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The Challenges Ahead of Pramod Sawant, The New Chief Minister of Goa

Sawant also faces the tricky challenge of handling the mining ban crisis, which impacts several hinterland constituencies. He needs to address sluggishness in the administration and decision-making, which had been hampered by Parrikar's long illness. 

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Pramod Sawant
The Chief Minister Pramod Sawant hails from the Sanquelim Assembly constituency. Wikimedia Commons

A touching scene, reminiscent of an episode from the epic Ramayana played out in Goa last week after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s death.

When his successor, Pramod Sawant, kicked-off his first day in office with a framed photograph of Parrikar placed in a chair alongside, one could draw rough parallels to the sequence in the great epic where King Bharata placed Lord Rama’s ‘padukas’ (wooden footwear) on the throne when his elder brother was banished from Ayodhya.

In Sawant’s case however, Parrikar who died on March 17 after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer, isn’t coming back. And the crown of thorns, which the new Chief Minister now wears, is bound to test the abilities of the Ayurveda practitioner-turned politician, who finds himself thrust headlong into a vortex of challenges. The first test for Sawant is the clutch of elections for two Lok Sabha seats and three Assembly by-polls.

court
It has been unable to restart mining operations for a year, after the Supreme Court banned all iron ore extraction. These are just the issues which Sawant faces at home and the outdoors isn’t hunky dory either. Pixabay

The Chief Minister hails from the Sanquelim Assembly constituency, where he is on shaky grounds and engaged in a turf war with his own Minister for Health Vishwajit Rane, who defeated a municipal panel floated by Sawant last year. Sanquelim is a part of the mining belt in North Goa, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no longer sure of its footing.

It has been unable to restart mining operations for a year, after the Supreme Court banned all iron ore extraction. These are just the issues which Sawant faces at home and the outdoors isn’t hunky dory either.

Relatively young at 45, Sawant has never been a minister. Now, as Chief Minister his troubleshooting skills will be tested with battle-hardened coalition leaders like Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward. From within the party, challenges could come from Rane and Michael Lobo, who harbour aspirations of being chief minister.

Through swift moves, Sawant, on Wednesday oversaw the merger of two out of the three MGP MLAs into the BJP, thus taking the sting out of senior MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar, who was also gunning for the chief ministership. The daring midnight split in the MGP provides a new sharp dimension to Sawant’s leadership.

elections
The first test for Sawant is the clutch of elections for two Lok Sabha seats and three Assembly by-polls. Pixabay

Sawant also faces the challenges of ‘Congressisation’ within the BJP in Goa. This refers to the induction of several Congressmen in its legislative ranks in the recent past, leaving very few legislators that the RSS and the state leadership, in the absence of Parrikar, can really trust.

He is among the few Goa BJP leaders whom party workers can call their own, considering that the party has generally dithered from giving senior management responsibilities to its six Catholic MLAs.

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Sawant also faces the tricky challenge of handling the mining ban crisis, which impacts several hinterland constituencies. He needs to address sluggishness in the administration and decision-making, which had been hampered by Parrikar’s long illness.

Perhaps the most tricky challenge confronting the new Chief Minister would possibly come in the near future when or if Parrikar’s reluctant son and Sawant’s friend, Utpal, takes the political plunge and contests the Panaji seat, which his late father represented since 1994. With Utpal already being talked about as a Chief Minister in the making by the party cadre, whether Sawant will continue or, like King Bharata in the Ramayana, sacrifice his throne so that Parrikar’s legacy continues is perhaps a story for a new contemporary epic. (IANS)

Next Story

Goa Coast in Danger with 2,800 Million Tonne Naphtha Floating Off the Coast

Alerts have been issued to coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, including Union Territories of Lakshadweep besides fisheries authorities

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Goa, Naphtha, Tanker
It lays cantered 200 km south east of Minicoy in Lakshadweep Islands and is to move north westwardly across Lakshadweep islands during the next 24 hours and then emerge into east central Arabian Sea. Pixabay

An abandoned tanker laden with 2,800 million tonne naphtha floating off the Goa Coast could spill its toxic content with a strong cyclone set to buffet the Arabian Sea Coastline.

Indian Coast Guard issued a fresh alert on Wednesday of a new cyclone towards Arabian Sea. The Coast Guard said, “While the Cyclonic Storm Kyarr moves away from the Indian coasts and continue to weaken, another well marked low pressure area has developed over Commorin and adjoining Indian Ocean area.”

It lays cantered 200 km south east of Minicoy in Lakshadweep Islands and is to move north westwardly across Lakshadweep islands during the next 24 hours and then emerge into east central Arabian Sea. Alerts have been issued to coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, including Union Territories of Lakshadweep besides fisheries authorities.

This has made things worse for the abandoned vessel laden with the toxic chemical. Top government officer said, “If any of the content spills, it will spell disaster for the aquatic and marine life as well entire coastal zone running for miles.” The main concern is that the vessel is laden with naphtha, which is highly volatile, carcinogenic and toxic with low boiling point, the officer added.

Goa, Naphtha, Tanker
Indian Coast Guard issued a fresh alert on Wednesday of a new cyclone towards Arabian Sea. Pixabay

Kyarr has already done damage to the abandoned vessel — MV Nu-Shi Nalini. The vessel ran aground on October 25 in close proximity of Dona Pula, near the house of Goa Governor, about eight cables from the shore Light House Aguada in Goa. “The said vessel has been abandoned since June 2018,” said the officer.

Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been put on high alert. However, they cite negligence on the part of Central government authorities dealing with the vessel. MV Nu-Shi Nalini, an Indian registered abandoned vessel anchored off Goa since September 21, 2019, but it was abandoned, unattended for more than a year after seepage and explosion in the engine room.

Explosion and death

It was at about 5.30 p.m. on June 31, 2018, Indian Coast Guard Kochi received information from Cochin Port Trust regarding explosion in engine room on board MV Nu-Shi nalini at 14 nautical miles south west of Kochi.

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The fire was brought under control by the vessel crew. There were a total of 22 crew, all Indians, on board.

The ship is owned by Electran Shipping Limited and the vessel managers were Arya Shipping Limited.

The last port of call was Mundra in Gujarat and the vessel was moving towards Budge in West Bengal with enroute halt at Colombo in Sri Lanka.

INVESTIGATION

Goa, Naphtha, Tanker
The Coast Guard said, “While the Cyclonic Storm Kyarr moves away from the Indian coasts and continue to weaken. Pixabay

During investigation, authorities found that the vessel departed from Mundra port on June 8, 2018, and during passage leakage of Naphtha was observed in pump room with high volatile fumes ingress in the engine room at 12 noon on June 13, 2018. Because of this, the vessel deviated from its passage to Colombo and anchored off Kochi.

The leaked naphtha was transferred from the pump room to an empty tank, however due to seepage of Naphtha fumes in engine room, an explosion occurred at about 4.50 p.m. in the engine room.

The fire rendered the vessel without power generation and propulsion and the vessel remained off Kochi anchorage.

Post the fire incident, 17 crew members disembarked on board Cochin Port Trust Tug and four crew members, including the captain remained on board. The Cochin Port tug boats remained in close vicinity of the vessel for monitoring. One of the crew members received 80 per cent burn injuries and he later succumbed. Indian Coast Guard, Indian Navy and Coast Guard tugs were deployed for assistance.

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Salvage Operation

In the meantime, the owner of the vessel appointed Resolve Salvage and Fire (India) for salvage. They embarked on the vessel on June 15 for assessment and subsequently four crew members disembarked from the vessel.

The salvours deployed one safety Tug named Tanzanite which remained in close vicinity of the vessel for any emergency. However, on July 22, 2018, salvours issued notice of termination to the owner due to disagreement in invoking the Special Compensation P&I Club Clause (SCOPIC) clause. Lastly, the salvours terminated the services from August 10, 2018, and demobilized the various equipments and tug.

Later, the owner appointed Lots Shipping Limited as new salvour on September 20, 2018 and the salvage operation started on October 10, 2018. The dangerous cargo was shifted by the salvours to other safer tanker on board and the owner planned to shift vessel to Sri Lanka for repair and safe discharge of cargo.

However, the vessel remained unmanned and posed a threat to the ecology of Kerala Coast and with salvours having terminated its services.

Threats and Legal fight

Indian Coast Guard took up the matter with Kerala state administration for disposal of vessel. A meeting was organised by state additional chief secretary, revenue head, environment head and disaster management head on November 16 to discuss the matter. It was decided that the issue will be taken with Director General Shipping for early disposal of the vessel.

In the meantime, Cochin Port Trust refused to provide berth to the vessel and the managers of the vessel thereafter files petition against the Cochin Trust Post at the Kerala High Court for not allowing the vessel to enter Kochi.

The port subsequently filed an affidavit stating that the vessel poses ecological and fire hazard to the port premises. The owner wanted to shift the vessel to Sri Lanka for repairs, however, case was filed with High court by one of the involved parties due to financial liabilities.

The Kerala High Court on April 3, 2019, directed the vessel not to enter the Kochi owing to safety issues and remain anchorage under arrest till financial security is provided.

Considering the impending danger posed by the unnamed vessel, the Central government counsel on the request the Director General Shipping approached the Kerala High Court to reconsider the directive and allow the vessel to proceed to any port where safe transfer of cargo is feasible.

“The High Court dismissed the admiralty suit and vacated the arrest order on May 29, 2019,” said the officer.

Thereafter, a series of meeting took place between all the stakeholders where it was decided for safe disposal of the vessel.

From Kochi to Goa

The vessel was taken over by Allahabad bank and was shifted under tow on July 9 from Kochi anchorage to Goa to discharge 2,800 million tonne of Naphtha. The vessel entered Mormugao port on July 15, 2019.

“Owing to local issues, the vessel was again shifted along with the cargo to outer anchorage of Mormugao port, Goa on September 21, 2019,” said the officer, adding that it was left unattended.

But with cyclonic storm Kyarr long the west coast of Goa, the unmanned, abandoned and anchored vessel slowly dragged from its initial position in north east direction and ran aground on October 25, 2019.

This has raised a serious threat to sea shore life. The Mormugao Port Trust and District Collector of the region have kept Pollution Response equipment standby.

The District Collector has also requested to augment contingency measures as per national Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan. But if the new cyclone hits the vessel it could be disastrous. (IANS)