By Nicole Suares
From decorated war hero (Vijay Star awardee during Kargil War in 1999), to warrior of Goa’s issues, Captain Viriato Fernandes, ‘the eternal optimist’ as his wife calls him, is prepared to fight another battle. Far from the war torn battle fields, it is protecting Goa’s green fields, environment, and cause of people, that’s at the heart of his work in politics. He spearheaded Goencho Awaz, an NGO that became a collective voice against the three linear projects. He forayed into politics, much to the initial resistance of the family, and the newbie stood up against the Goliath of Dabolim, Mauvin Godinho in the last elections, losing by a whisker. He pulled 6,024 votes, with a 32.14% vote share finishing second to Godinho with 7,594 votes with a 40.51% vote share.
Battle Ground Goa: Loss of Old Economy
Captain finds that the ancestors protected and preserved Goa for the ‘future generations that is us.’ He says, “It is our duty to protect and preserve it for the future generations in a better way. Unfortunately, in the name of development, Goa is getting distorted and destroyed.”
He opines that the old industries of agriculture, mining, tourism, fishing that were once the backbones of the economy are now being replaced by casinos, drugs, and prostitution. Today, there is over-exploitation of resources that belong to all people.
Since agriculture wasn’t encouraged by past Governments, people sought greener pastures elsewhere. “You have to come out with incentives and schemes. Unlike in other States with Agriculture colleges, you have to brief students on the lucrative opportunities. In Maharashtra, Karnataka, the Reserve Bank has ensured that one officer is employed in the bank exclusively to look after the agriculture sector. If the farmers visit, he provides information on loans, explain schemes,” he explains.
On the mining scenario he says it’s been a decade since the mining ban in 2012 and the Government, is still to come up with a concrete plan of action. Repeated promises to re-start mining have been an eye wash with a lack of vision on how to implement the same. “What have they done for mining dependent people?” he questions. Captain Fernandes suggests that the unused mining areas can be used for alternate source of energy like solar or can start water sports in those spots.
With a fresh auction that could possibly open the doors to outside interests, he sounds the alarm on the dangers ahead. “We will be ruled by outsiders. The mining lobby had a huge influence on electoral output. When you have people like Adani and Jindal we have seen the kind of havoc they are playing across India. If they take control of a small place like Goa, it will be the saddest day. Goa will never be the same,” he foresees.
Another major industry under stress is tourism. The Captain voices his concerns over the setting up of gambling zones under the Master Tourism Plan. “These give rise to crime, drugs, prostitutions, rapes, and murders. Today with prostitution and drugs destroying the fabric of society, everybody looks at Goa as a sex destination,” he elaborates.
He objected to the flawed Master Tourism policy pointing out, the Government is not thinking of sustainability. Over three postings in Kerala in the navy, he observed first-hand the tourism development that focussed on hinterland tourism. “We don’t have a policy for hinterland tourism though they have been talking about it. We have got tributaries where you can encourage house boats. In Kerala, local families serve traditional food. You can encourage local tourism by taking them on an experience, promote our culinary heritage and generating employment.”
With the huge impact of the coal dust flying across many miles, Captain asks which tourist will come to Goa with coal pollution. It would hammer another nail in the coffin and end tourism.
Instead of local for vocal, the focus, he says, is ‘aimed at five-star tourism for the rich and not the poor. “They talk about promoting culture, but at the same time destroy the Goan culture and heritage. Tourism has to protect our culture and heritage. This can be only be done by promoting it. But we are moving towards drugs and casinos.”
Emergence of a New Identity
Has this forged a new identity for Goa?
‘Our identity has already changed,’ he asserts by pointing to the Old Goa alleged structure in a protected area. He adds, “The State Government is quiet. They say they will give justice. How are they protecting heritage when they allowed it to happen? It only shows misplaced priorities. This Government is purely driven by crony capitalists.”
Rising crimes in the past few days have also added a new dimension to the new Goa. He says “Owing to the flawed and compromised policies of the present BJP Government in Goa and centre in promoting casino culture, dictated by the crony capitalists, there has been phenomenal rise in crimes, drugs, gambling, rapes, murders with increasing cases of atrocities against women. Goa’s crime graph is fast increasing”.
By staring death in the face and surviving the tsunami, the Captain is mentally prepared to fight till the last. He’s holding his ground and continues to wade the murky waters of politics. “At one point, I felt people didn’t deserve honest politics. But then I realised this was the game the politicians played. They took money to split the votes. There are ‘kasabs’ in politics who came as politicians but wanted to split the votes. We can’t give up because people are innocent. And if you are honest, you cannot be stopped,” he says.