Tensing Carlos Rodrigues

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As Goans dream walk to the precipice.

In Politically wrong on April 30, 2013 at 9:08 am

Recently I came across an interesting story in a local paper titled “Europe calling, Goans on the run”. The news story goes on to speak about two thousands and more Goans who hold Portuguese nationality or passport. The figure may be accurate or off the mark; but the fact remains that a large number of Goans are indeed on a run allured by Europe. Though they are Portuguese nationals, almost all of them live and work in Britain.

euroCrucial to the success of this ‘return voyage of discovery’ are answers to three basic questions : One, how long is Britain likely to provide employment to them ? Two, how long will the unique circumstance which provides these Portuguese nationals with unlimited access to Britain last ? And, three, will Portugal provide them with the conditions for the fulfillment of their dreams, if they have to return to it ?

 In the immediate aftermath of WWII Europe began a process of integration to avoid the extreme nationalism that had led to the devastating war. After a number of moves, in 1957 the European Economic Community (EEC) was formed; starting with 6 countries, EEC gradually embraced almost all the countries in Europe. The Schengen Agreement of 1985 led the way towards the creation of open borders without passport controls, ensuring free movement of people, goods, services and capital across the member countries of EEC. This is what makes it possible for Portuguese nationals to live and work without restrictions in Britain.

In 1992 the Maastricht Treaty was signed creating the European Union and a single European currency, the euro. But Britain negotiated an opt-out from the part of the Maastricht Treaty that would have required it to adopt the common currency. The coalition government elected in May 2010 pledged not to join the euro for the lifetime of the parliament. British public opinion has consistently opposed joining the euro. Britain therefore has always been on the fence of the European union – one foot in, one foot out.

LONDON: Record numbers of rich Indians are swooping on high-end residential properties in London, thanks to a booming economy, favourable foreign exchange rates and rise in number of students here from affluent Indian families.

 In the residential property market in which each house is worth 5 million pounds and above, Indians now figure as the second biggest foreign buyer group. European buyers top the prime market, while Chinese buyers are third, behind Indians, according to Savills, a prominent estate agent. EconomicTimes, Jan 21, 2011, 11.03pm IST

The Maastricht Treaty outlines 5 convergence criteria EU member states are required to comply with in order to adopt euro :

  1. Inflation cannot be more than 1.5% higher than the inflation rates in the 3 EU member states with the lowest inflation.
  2. The ratio of the budget deficit to gross domestic product at market prices cannot exceed 3% at the end of the preceding fiscal year.
  3. The ratio of government debt to GDP at market prices cannot exceed 60% at the end of the preceding fiscal year.
  4. The countries should have joined the exchange-rate mechanism under the European Monetary System for two consecutive years, and should have succeeded to keep its monetary exchange-rate within a +/- 15% range from an unchanged central rate. (Prior to adoption of euro.)
  5. Long-term interest rates cannot be more than 2.0% higher, than the similar 10-year government bond yields in the 3 EU member states with the lowest inflation.

germanyThe convergence criteria were and still are a must for the financial stability of the EU. It is the divergence from these criteria that led to the Euro crisis. But they were doomed to diverge from the very start. The member countries of EU were never on a level playing field; and they could never be. Adhering to these criteria would impose severe restrictions on their economic governance, and would go against their economic goals. That is the reason Britain opted to stay out of the European monetary integration. Further, more integrated a country is into the union, greater would be the contagion of any financial destabilisation within the union. For those countries which are already in, the choice is more difficult; they cannot opt out now; they have to leave the EU altogether. And one country leaving could open the flood gates for the dissolution of the union.

The member countries of EU basically fall into two categories : those which are worse off than the others (like Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.) and those which are better off than the others (like Germany, France, Holland, etc.). Both are caught in a dilemma. The former need the union to tide over their bad times; but have to put up with the hurting domination of the others – beggars cannot be the choosers. The latter need the former (markets) to keep their fires burning; but have to put up with the burden of irresponsible extravagance of the former.

porThe question relevant to us is, in such a situation, how long can Britain remain dangling over the fence, particularly as it sees the union getting into bigger and bigger mess day by day ? Perhaps Britain finds itself at the tether’s end. A few months ago British Prime Minister David Cameron sent a clear message to the rest of Europe that the British wanted a few things changed; with a veiled threat that if not it will quit. Of course Britain is not alone in the disillusionment with the EU. Several economic groups in the continental Europe would rather prefer to be out of the union. But these countries have an overpowering political reason to see that the union survives – the memories of WWII are still strong; that is not true of Britain. So all said and done, it is difficult to say how long Britain will remain in the union, even if the union itself survives. Influx of migrants from the less

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prosperous countries of EU into Britain has been one of the most hurting consequences of Maastricht Treaty. 2.3 million people from the rest of EU live and work in Britain; as against this only 1.7 million British citizens live in the rest of EU. This needs to be seen in the context of the unemployment situation in Britain. It would not be surprising then if the sentiment against the migrants from the rest of EU picks strength as time passes.

Let’s now turn to the other two vital conditions for the success of the ‘return voyage of discovery’ : the economic health of Britain that is needed to sustain the Goan Portuguese nationals there if EU survives; and the economic health of Portugal that is needed to accept the Goan Portuguese nationals back if EU collapses; the graphs above speak for themselves. 

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For the full story log on to : http://www.navhindtimes.in/panorama/goans-dream-walk-precipice

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The Kristangs of Malacca.

In Goa at Crossroads on April 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Goa at Crossroads

#07

Christmas was the only time we could go on a trip overseas. So we wanted a destination where we would feel the spirit of Christmas. And we chose Malacca; just because of its association with St. Francis Xavier. Malacca, lying at the confluence of the South-Western and the North-Eastern Monsoons, has wooed the Chinese, the Indians, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Japanese at different times in its long history. Since times immemorial its port has been frequented by a multitude of ships and merchants from all the Asian nations of the time : Arabia, Persia, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Ceylon, and Bengal. In it were gathered and sold all the Asian spices: pepper, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, … . And that is what attracted the conquerors – the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Portuguese ruled Malacca for one hundred and thirty years between 1511 and 1641. Among many remnants of this sojourn are the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, the gate of the fortress “A Famosa” and the community of Kristangs – the offspring of Portuguese men and Malay women. In the mid-1920s, at the fag end of their rule, the British set off a large area of land along the sea, not far from the Malacca port, as a sort of a reservation for the Kristangs; what has since then been called the Portuguese Settlement or Portuguese Village or Kampung Portugis. Untitled But, it is not the history of Portuguese rule in Malacca or even that of the Kristangs that interests me at this point; it is their present. They are organised under the banner of Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Association; and Michael Singho is the president of that association. This is what Singho wrote around the time of Christmas, 2010 : “The coastline at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca has been transformed by the implementation of its Urban Renewal Development Program since 2003. The Portuguese Settlement literally grew by another 6 acres (2.4 ha), with land reclaimed from the sea. Of this, 3 acres now house the Hotel Lisbon and the rest a car park, a food court and a playground. The main purpose of the URDP was to enhance the settlement as a tourism attraction and further top its potential in this industry. This in turn could bring further benefits to the community in terms of jobs and business opportunities.” “There are, however, two glaring situations that need to be looked into seriously. The first revolves around Hotel Lisbon. The building initially planned as a cultural complex, housing bazaar lots and a budget hotel, is designed like a Fortaleza. It has the required features and elements that blend and fit with the Portuguese concept of the surroundings.” “The Hotel Lisbon, however, tells another tale. To start with, when the cultural complex metamorphosed into a hotel, opportunities to run the intended bazaar lots/stalls disappeared altogether. What followed was the acute alienation of the community, in the ownership, equity, management or operation of this hotel. Even as employees their participation was minimal and fell along the ranks of kitchen helps, receptionists or security guards even though they possess a natural flair and a wide spectrum of talents in the hospitality business.” “The Hotel Lisbon with its name explicitly in tow, and situated in the cradle of the Malaysian Portuguese Eurasian Society, is managed by a nasi kandar (Malay Muslim) entrepreneur and of course serves as its main cuisine, nasi kandar. Though exquisitely appetising this Penang speciality sits agonisingly out of sync in such a clearly defined theme and setting. It is like offering Punjabi cuisine as the main spread in a Minangkabau themed hotel in the middle of Rembau.” “To add insult to injury the hotel restricts the sale of beers, wines and alcoholic beverages. This is offensive as it imposes upon an inherent social feature where wines, beers and alcoholic beverages find fond indulgence, and are regarded customary within the context of Portuguese culture. Capitalising on the Portuguese theme but altering the portrayal of some of its social characteristics and mannerisms is rather disrespectful and subjugatory even. In fact whatever is relative about the hotel ends with its name and its building. Beyond that, it serves as an indignation that does not complement the overall surroundings except to, perhaps exploit it.” There are not many Kristang left now in the Settlement; many of them have migrated to Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Those who are still there look pretty affluent. But most of them do not talk the creole Portuguese; they have switched over to English. We went to the Settlement on the Christmas day expecting to savour some real Portuguese cuisine – after all we were missing the sorpatel and san’nas of back home. But nothing of it; all that we could indulge on was Spicy Baked Fish and Calamari in Garlic Sauce. Sounds very familiar, right ? If you find any parallels between Goa and Malacca, do not blame it on Albuquerque or St. Xavier; it’s much more basic.

An airport too far – 2

In Politically wrong on April 11, 2013 at 3:57 am

Let me now turn to the demolition of the second restrictive premise : that an airport is merely a place where planes land. An airport need not be merely a place where planes land. All international airports that have made big today are more than mere airports – they are integrated transport hubs which people prefer to use. That requires out of the box thinking; and that is what I want to show is necessary in case of an airport in Goa.  I am basing my suggestions particularly on my experience of the new Kuala Lumpur Airport.

mopaThe idea of an integrated transport hub suggests itself once we look at the map of the area around Mopa. NH 66 (old NH 17) runs at 1.66 km from the airport location; and the Konkan Railway line runs at 3.06 km. When the airport comes up it is likely to be skirted by the NH (though at different elevations) and will have the KR line within less than 2km from its periphery. Does that suggest to you a multimodal transport hub ? I know there are some ground level difficulties there; mainly because of the topography and the distance (about 2 km) between the KR line and the NH.

Move your sight a little lower on the map and you have the two lines – the NH and the KR – converging at the Pernem Railway Station – just about 6 km from the airport; considering the spread of the airport, the distance may be actually about 4 km. Here is where the out of the box thinking comes in. And this is what the new KL International Airport (KLIA) has demonstrated : the airport where the planes land and take off can be far from the Passenger Terminal. At KLIA , which is 60 km away from KL city, the major flights land and take off from what is known as the Satellite Terminal A, while the passengers check in and check out at Main Terminal or Terminal 1. It is here that the passengers complete their immigration and other tasks like buying local currency or SIM card or duty-free shopping. A dedicated passenger train called the Aerotrain takes the passengers from the Satellite Terminal to the Main Terminal.  The 3-car 250-person capacity driverless trains complete the 2 km journey in less than two minutes. If the Mopa Airport is so designed that the ‘Satellite Terminal’ is located at Mopa plateau and the ‘Main Terminal’ is located on the plain at the convergence of NH and the KR lines, a similar train should be able to cover the 4 km distance in less than 5 minutes. A smaller capacity train with a lower frequency may be what we will need to start with.

aeroAn integrated multimodal transport hub could be developed at the Pernem Railway Station where passengers can switch from plane to train or bus and vice versa, from train to bus and vice versa, all under one roof in absolute comfort. The complex would also provide for booking of tickets, sanitary utilities, relaxation while waiting, food and refreshments, booking of hotels and shopping. It is needless to say that the hub is not just a utility; it is a business proposition that will provide employment and income to locals and revenue to the Goa government. That is what it has to be eventually : a hub for growth of the entire region. Integrated hubs like this can provide tremendous boost to local produce as they attract large congregations of customers; it becomes a virtuous cycle : activity  attracts crowds, and crowds attract activity, and the growth effect trickles down over a wide region. And the right type of growth : growth without the ill effects of crass urbanization, rapacious industrialization and unjust concentration of wealth.

kliaEven looking from the narrow point of view of the viability of the airport, no major airport can be viable if it cannot derive more than half of its income from non-aeronautical activities; I suppose the ratio for a viable business model is something like 20:80 between aeronautical and non-aeronautical activities. Or else the non travelling public has to bear the tax burden; or the airport has to simply price itself out of the competition.

 Crucial to the viability of the integrated transport hub is the connectivity. And that is the locational advantage of Mopa : the KR Station, the NH 66 and the airport will be in close proximity, providing connectivity within the region as well as with the rest of the world. But this advantage will work for the viability of the hub and the airport if and only if the KR line and the NH are used optimally. Passengers landing at Mopa need to be shuttled to their destinations in comfort and in the shortest possible time. One excellent option is to use the major KR stations as the hubs for disembarkation of air travellers and run fast trains connecting these stations. This is again a superb idea that has been tried out by KLIA. A high speed non-stop train KLIA Express connects the airport to another marvelous transport hub KL Sentral in the heart of Kuala Lumpur – in just 28 minutes; another train KLIA Transit makes two stops in between; what is the most important, the trains start from within the Main Terminal of the airport. Other railway lines – metro, suburban, intercity and transnational (going to Bangkok and Singapore) – either originate at or pass through KL Sentral; as a result the air passengers have unsurpassed connectivity with comfort, speed and economy. (For more details see https://olvaddo.wordpress.com.)

krSimilar trains could start from the Pernem Integrated Transport Hub or the trains passing through Pernem KR Station could be utilised for this purpose, depending on the traffic volumes and track availability. They would have to then connect to the major stations on the KR route between Ratnagiri and Bhatkal; some trains could connect to only few stations, others could connect to more. If we are to get back to the narrow context of tourist flow to Goa, as an illustration, Thivim would cater to the Calangute-Baga belt, Madgaon would cater to the Mobor-Bogmalo belt, and so on. This would also provide impetus to the up gradation of KR infrastructure, and make KR the dream lifeline of Konkan, that it was supposed to be.

Integration is very critical for the success of this model. Or else, we will have a situation similar to that in Chennai. Chennai International Airport (CIA) is one of the few in India probably which can be accessed by a train. The other one is Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI); I am told the Metro connection from New Delhi to IGI is of global standards. CIA has the rail connectivity, but the switch is not at all smooth. Chennai city is served by the Metro; the metropolitan area is served by local trains. So if you are somewhere in the city – say Triplicane, Royapettah or Mylapore – and you have to fly, you need to take a Metro train to Chennai Fort and then catch a local train back to Tirusulam – the station close to the airport. The subway at Tirusulam station opens out into the airport area; but the subway stinks and is usually inundated; and after that you need to walk about 400 metres through dusty rubble to enter the Terminal. Hopefully, once the Metro line gets extended to the airport, the switch should be smoother. Integrating the airport into the local transport network goes a long way in making an airport passenger friendly.

The beauty of Pernem Integrated Transport Hub is that it offers a parallel mode for dispersion : the NH 66. Fast and comfortable coaches could carry the air passengers to their destinations in the hinterland. The two modes, therefore, would complement each other, offering flexibility and wider reach; NH 66 would provide access to those areas lying away from the KR line.

The question is, why not follow the same model at Dabolim ? Dabolim has the added advantage of access to the South Western rail line. Yes, Dabolim has access to SW line; but, as said before, it is a weak link. Well that could be strengthened. So I will not discard that point altogether. But Dabolim is too far from the KR line, which is more vital to service the hinterland of the airport. (Actually that is not really true : the KR line passes very close to the airport, but some half a kilometer below !) Dabolim is also far from the NH 66; that however is not a big problem, as NH 66A (the so called Four Lane Highway), which passes by the airport, can be a strong link to NH 66. But most important handicap is the unavailability of space to develop an Integrated Multimodal Transport Hub in the neighbourhood of Dabolim. Some 25 years back it would have been possible; that is before Verna was developed as an industrial hub. Verna Plateau would have been an excellent site for an Integrated Multimodal Transport Hub.

To conclude, the choice today is not between Mopa and Dabolim. The only real challenge that I perceive for Mopa is Sindhudurga. Because, all that I have proposed for Mopa will also work for Sindhudurga. If Sindhudurga materialises in a big way, Mopa will have to bow out; and even Dabolim.  If we do not want that to happen, we will have to act fast  and act decisively on a massive scale to emerge the winner between the two. 

For the full story log on to : epaperoheraldo.in and check the March 10, 2013 edition.

Does not sound like Goa, right ?

In Goa at Crossroads on March 31, 2013 at 4:16 am

Goa at Crossroads

#06

Hardly a three metre strip of sand, choc-a-bloc with chairs, arm chairs, beds, stools; a broad road running along it, giant Merc buses and Isuzu pick-ups zipping up and down; rows after rows of stalls selling all types of knick knacks, cold drinks, snacks, undergarments, curios; speed boats anchored right as you get off the sand into the water, picking tourists for rides to the islands and parasailing platforms in the sea; the sky punctured by towering Hiltons, Marriotts, Hyatts, InterContinentals, Accors and BestWesterns; that is a beach.

 Drive inwards, food joints jostle for space and attention – local, Chinese, Continental, fusion, all types of cuisine; very prominent are the eateries run by the whites (should I say expats ?) – they have high sounding names, difficult to understand and offer “back home” menus.

 No less prominent are the massage parlours – almost every third establishment that is not an eating place or a chemist’s is a massage parlour. Behind glass windows, you can see beds with impeccable white linen, towels neatly rolled up and silhouettes of women in waiting. But not all have the glass windows; all that you see are sign boards and pretty women sitting or standing at the door. Sometimes it is just a small board with an arrow pointing to the upper floor. Most of them have a sign upstairs that says “Rooms Available”.

 PattayaHowever much that may arouse your imagination, the days are rather dull here. Let the sun set and lights come on, the city sparkles in sensuous colours. The eating places get crowded and the side alleys almost spring out of nowhere, like bright enticing  tentacles of an octopus that have pool parlours for their suckers; so many of them. After a few of those I simply lost count of the alleys and the pool parlours; almost got lost; tired and scared, I returned to the base at Golden Beach Hotel. For the pool parlours was something that I had not seen before – so large, so many tables, with young girls loitering around, waiting for “players”.

 All over, the roads are full of whites, walking hand in hand with local girls – well, so many of them that one finds it rather weird. What are all these whites doing here ? What do they come here for ? They understand no local language; their female consorts interpret it for them and help them choose the dishes on the menu.

 Does not sound like Goa, right ? Well, it is not; it is Pattaya. But could be Goa, say circa 2061 !

Flying to the Millionnaires’ Row

In Travels on March 24, 2013 at 6:47 am

Heeren Street or Millionnaires’ Row (now Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) runs parallel to its better known counterpart Jalan Hang Jebat or Jonker Street, as you cross the small bridge across the River Melaka from the Dutch Square. Both have their own claim to fame. The Jonker Street is a gastronomical delight; but let’s keep that for some other time.

Heeren StHeeren Street is where the wealthy Peranakan Chinese built their ornate houses in Malacca in 15th and 16th centuries. Peranakan are the descendants of Chinese males (baba) who married the local Malay females (nyonia). They prospered mainly in trade and tin mining. Hotel Puri Melaka is a beautiful example of how this unique cultural heritage has been preserved and is presented to the present day visitor to Melaka.

Though you cannot fly to Millionnaires’ Row, as Melaka does not have an international airport, you need not despair; you can as good as fly. Just take a flight to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport – KLIA.

1280px-KLIA_Aerotrain2Unlike many other airports, Kuala Lumpur International Airport is not named after any person; just call it KLIA; but keep that abbreviation in mind, for it is very handy. Spanning around 1002 km, it is one of the largest airports in the world, and one of the friendliest. You land at what is called the Satellite Terminal A. A dedicated passenger train called the Aerotrain takes you to the Main Terminal or Terminal 1, where you complete your immigration and other tasks like buying local currency or SIM card. These three-car driverless trains run every five minutes on elevated rail and under the taxiways. Each 250-person capacity train can transport 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction at up to 56 km/h; the journey takes under two minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZxOmFCiyAs

KLIAekspres_SalakSelatanOnce you are done and are ready to quit the airport, do not worry as to how you are going to travel the next 57 km to Kuala Lumpur city – that is where you need to go for your onward journey to Melaka; do not even hail a cab. From within the Main Terminal a high speed non-stop train named KLIA Express takes you into another marvelous transport hub, KL Sentral in the heart of Kuala Lumpur – in just 28 minutes, with trains departing at 15 minute intervals during peak hours and 20 minute intervals during off-peak hours.

KL Sentral is the largest railway station in Southeast Asia. Besides KLIA Ekspres, the station provides access to other rail lines  : KTM Komuter, KTM Intercity, RapidKL and KL Monorail. Spread over more than 9 acres, KL Sentral offers under one roof shopping, food, entertainment, train and bus services and even check in for your flights. You can relax here, refuel yourself and begin the next leg of your ‘flight’ – to Tampin. Take a KTM Intercity train going to Singapore, and get down at Tampin. If you arrive on an early morning flight, you can comfortably take a train leaving around noon from KL Sentral; you have two or three of these trains in a day, going towards Singapore.

IMG_2076By the time the bus pulls into Melaka Sentral – Melaka’s equivalent of KL Sentral – it is dark. Do not get panicky. You may relax and try out some refreshments; or head straight to the Bus Bay no. 17 and take the Panorama Bus.  Depending on the traffic congestion in the city, it may take you between 15 minutes to 1 hour – avoid Saturdays – to reach the Dutch Square, stop #5 from Melaka Sentral. But you cannot miss it; the bright pink of the Stadthuys, the Christ Church and the Clock Tower overwhelms you. Get down and take a fresh breath; the Millionnaires’ Row is just across the river. Do not cross the bridge in a hurry. Take in the scene; you will most likely love it at first sight.

IMG_2242Once across the bridge, and below the dragon spouting water, do not proceed straight; that is the Jonker’s Street. At that time of evening, it will be too crowded for you to pull your suitcase along. Take the left road – that is the Heeren Street; that is narrower, and you will have to constantly watch out for the cars buzzing by. Do not get distracted by the dazzling beauty of the mansions on either side; keep it for the next day. Well, you can spend days together admiring the Millionnaires’ Row. For the moment, just walk straight till you see the sign board of Hotel Puri Melaka on your right. Good night.

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An airport too far – 1

In Politically wrong on March 17, 2013 at 9:52 am

At the end of the article MOPA v/s DABOLIM by Rahul Basu that appeared in the Herald Review of Sunday, 10th February, 2013, based on a blog post of the same name dated 9th February (http://moreseriously.blogspot.in), the author seems to very convincingly conclude that the idea of an airport at Mopa is ‘stupid’ : “Our politicians are not stupid, why are they still pushing for Mopa ?”  

Well, the idea is made to look stupid by putting blinkers on the readers’ eyes.  What I wish to do here is to let the reader look beyond the blinkers. 

AirportsFirst and foremost, let me accept that Mopa is not perhaps the best location for a new airport. But I suppose now we are beyond the stage of looking out for an optimum location for the airport; so, accepting fait accompli, I am restricting myself to just Mopa and Dabolim. Further, I fully agree with Mr. Basu that two airports in such close vicinity is a ‘stupid’ idea.

Now let me come to the two restrictive premises that make an airport at Mopa look stupid : one – that the international airport in Goa is for Goa alone; two – that an airport is merely a place where planes land.

An international airport in Goa cannot be for Goa alone; it cannot be sustained by the traffic generated by a small place like Goa. Goa may be a state, but it is smaller in area and population than many districts in India. We may be under an illusion that Goa’s tourist flow will sustain an international airport. We need to rethink that assumption.

HighwaysTherefore we have to necessarily look at a larger catchment area. What could be the catchment area of an airport in Goa ? Goa’s geographical positioning, I feel, restricts the catchment area of the airport to the coastal belt – south of the hinterland of Mumbai and north of the hinterland of Mangalore. We may have to replace the existing Mumbai airport in the north by the airport in or around Navi Mumbai, whilst doing this calculation. That gives us about 250 km to the north and 200 km to the south, which encompasses the districts of Ratnagiri (South) and Sindhudurga in Maharashtra and Uttar Kannad in Karnataka.

Why not the area beyond the Ghats like the districts of Kolhapur and Sangli in Maharashtra and Belgaum, Dharwad and Haveri in Karnataka ? Passengers or freight from beyond Ghats cannot be easily captured by an airport in Goa because of tenuous links across the Ghats. The only robust road link between the coast and the up-Ghat region along the entire stretch between Mumbai and Ernakulam is NH 48 (old NH 4) connecting Mumbai to Pune; nowhere below that there exists such a link. There are numerous roads crossing the Ghats to the south of Mumbai : Ratnagiri-Kolhapur, Panaji-Belgaum, Kumta-Sirsi, Honnavar–Shimoga, Managalore-Madikeri, etc.; but none of these are capable of providing robust and rapid links. As for the rail links, Madgaon-Londa is the only broad gauge line crossing the Ghats between Mumbai and Mangalore; seven trains run on the route of which only two are daily.

RailwaysThe broad gauge line connecting Mangalore to Hassan is an even weaker link, with only two daily trains running on it. Both these are single lines and not electrified; the Railway Vision 2020 document too does not propose any improvement in the situation. The next link below that – the Shorannur-Erode line – is however a robust link. The Ghats, therefore, have remained ‘insurmountable’ at least as far as the hinterland of Goa is concerned. Thus, it makes sense to restrict the catchment area of an airport in Goa to the coastal belt – south of the hinterland of Mumbai and north of the hinterland of Mangalore.

The Belgaum and Hubli airports, therefore, move out of reckoning; they cannot be competitors to an airport in Goa. That leaves us with two contenders – Sindhudurga and Karwar. Of these Karwar should be dropped out. It is going to be a Naval Airport, just like Dabolim; and, therefore, like Dabolim, can never aspire to be a ‘real’ International Airport.  A Naval Airport is basically a Defence Establishment, with all its necessary constraints. A civilian airport needs to be free of all constraints, save those related to environment; only then can it aspire to attain global standards. Sindhudurga airport is the only and the real contender; and I have no argument to wish it away; at least at this point. 

For the full story log on to : epaperoheraldo.in and check the March 10, 2013 edition.

My encounter with tourist Goa.

In Goa at Crossroads on March 7, 2013 at 12:29 am

Goa at Crossroads

#05

In late eighties I was working on a project on Impact of Tourism in Goa (Ave Cleto Afonso, TOURISM IN GOA – SOCIO ECONOMIC IMPACT, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, 1989). During the interactions with the stake holders, and those who had applied their mind to the matter, I got the “costa del mierda” view of tourism in Goa. I still cannot forget those prophetic words of Dr. Meenakshi Martins “Upto 200 metres from the high tide line, it is not Goa.” Some years later I found myself once again in a close encounter with tourism while doing market research for a company that contemplated to start a superfast luxury train between Mumbai and Goa. British charter operators predicted the end of charters in a few years. Well that has not happened. Or has it not really ? Bizarre descriptions of male prostitution involving German widows and local fishermen haunt my mind when I think of the charters. For me the trail of tourism ended there; I changed my track after that, and my only view of tourism was what I got from my daily newspaper. By the way, that superfast luxury train never started; do not blame me for that; I reported what I gathered from the horses’ mouths !

Old anchorBut the beginning of my encounter with tourism was much earlier. As a young undergraduate student at Dhempe College in mid seventies, it was not rare to have a couple of guys in trance on the backbenches in the amphitheatre lecture rooms. But, perhaps for me tourist Goa phenomenon was even more personal. Most of my childhood summer evenings were spent on the then virgin Fatrade beach. Occasionally we would walk along to Mobor and be awed by the sheer beauty of the dazzling white line of sand drawn over a shimmering blue sea. My father told me it was the most beautiful place in the world. A few years later when we began to work, and have loose change in the wallet (some of us a little more as they went on board the ship), we dreamed of buying up that “most beautiful place on earth” ! But when Old Anchor set its anchor in the sands of Mobor, it was the end of our age of innocence. We knew we had lost the damsel we had loved all along.

But, can we just blow away this empire built over last fifty years in a fit of kolaveri ? It shall go nevertheless, whether we like it or not, in a fit of kolaveri. Tourist destinations are prone for self destruction. As S C Plog points out in his Why Destination Areas Rise And Fall In Popularity (Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1974) : “We can visualize a destination moving across a spectrum, however gradually or slowly, but far too often inexorably, toward the potential of its own demise. Destination areas carry with them the potential seeds of their own destruction, and lose their qualities which originally attracted tourists.” The same is reinforced by R W Butler (The Concept Of A Tourism Area Cycle Of Evolution : Implications For Management Of Resources, Canadian Geographer, 1980). According to Butler, there are six stages through which tourist areas pass : exploration, involvement, development, consolidation, stagnation, and decline.

This happens basically because of two strong forces : one, the congestion and the ensuing discomfort – falling service standards, rising prices, dirt and stink – chase away the tourists; two, as tourism empire grows, the conflict between the interests of the host population and the tourists increases, causing frequent clashes and an eventual backlash.

Giedre Steikunaite, the former editorial intern at the New Internationalist, recounts the story of Cancún, Mexico :

“Cancún is trapped in the vicious circle of tourism development, which both feeds it and kills it. Just 40 years ago, Kankun (‘nest of snakes’ in Maya) was a sleepy fishing village with marshes, mangroves, virgin jungle and untouched beaches. The paradise lasted until 1970, when the government decided it was time for a new Acapulco, as the original one had been degraded and couldn’t serve as a reliable money pot any longer.”

Marine biologist Everto Herrera Batista, researcher for Alerta Cambio Climático, explains that rains have decreased in recent years and the state is suffering droughts and desertification. The number of cyclones has almost doubled in the last 30 years, from 10 in 1980 to 19 this year. As if that wasn’t enough, the rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of the white sandy beaches which attract tourists in the first place.

The Timber Depot At The End Of The Rail Line

In Travels on February 23, 2013 at 12:08 am

IMG_0942Kathgodam was a small village in 1901 with a population of 375. Its importance grew rapidly after the railway line was extended to it around 1884.  It is still a small town. It is the last railway station if you are travelling to Kumaon region of the Himalayan Mountains. From Kathgodam, mountain roads lead to tourist destinations like Nainital, Bhimtal, Sattal, Mukteshwar, Ranikhet,Naukuchiyatal and Almora.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01But do not take the train upto Kathgodam. Get down at Haldwani, about 6 km earlier. It’s from here that you will get the buses going into the mountain ranges. On your return journey, however, do not go all the way to Haldwani; get down at Kathgodam. Most of the trains halt for a very short time in Haldwani, if at all they do; and there are hardly any facilities at the station.  

Kathgodam-HaldwaniKathgodam literally means the timber depot.

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Once upon a time on an island

In Politically wrong on February 22, 2013 at 10:53 am

Many years ago, as a young man, I had seen a play about the people on an island; and my blood had boiled with anger. The island was owned by a landlord; all the people on the island worked for him. And he was a ruthless landlord. One day a young man from across reached this island. He was shocked to see the exploitation by the landlord, and the misery of the people. He decided to fight. One day he freed the people from the tyranny of the landlord. He gathered them all in the marketplace and announced that from that day onward they were free; that they shall own the lands they plough; that they shall work and feed themselves.

As the young man turned to go, an old man, bent and limping, walked up to him, and said : “Lord, tell us what to do. We are at your service.” And the rest followed him to fall at the feet of the young man.

That was a fable, alright; but that seems to be about us. Sixty four years after gaining independence from the British and sixty one years after becoming a democratic republic, today we have set out to rewind history : to fall at the feet of a man called Lokpal – he who shall deliver us from all evils, he who shall protect our constitutional rights, he who shall decide whether we go to hell or to heaven. Just like the people on that fictional island. And my blood is once again boiling with anger.

I was born after India gained independence; I do not know what the British were, except for what my history teacher taught me. However I was fortunate enough to be born on that small piece of land that never became independent at the stroke of midnight on August 14, 1947. We had to wait for another fourteen years, till our masters, the Portuguese, were driven out in 1961. I was only seven years old then.

But I was well over twenty and yet not too old when President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declared a State of Internal Emergency upon the advice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 26th June 1975. I did not know at the outset what emergency meant. But my father, who had experienced the midnight knocks under the Portuguese regime, told me it means you either piss in your pant or be ready to die. That was the wrong age for me to choose the former.

part-005Censorship was imposed. The leaders of all opposition parties and other outspoken critics of Indira’s government were arrested and behind bars.  On 5th August 1975 the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act was passed by the parliament. On 26th September 1975 the Thirty-ninth Amendment to the Indian Constitution, placing election of Prime Minister beyond the scrutiny of judiciary, was passed. On 9th January 1976 the government suspended the seven freedoms guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India. On 18th January 1977 the President dissolved the Lok Sabha. The entire country was in a state of shock.

Fully assured that democracy had been finished for good in India, a jubilant Indira Gandhi declared elections; no one could dare imagine Indira’s gamble could go wrong. But it did. Indian democracy triumphed; the people asserted their sovereignty notwithstanding the consequences.

Today, once again my blood is boiling with anger to see a motley mob howling to finish democracy – a democracy that has proved its power time and again, kicking into dust leaders who have disdained it; the latest probably was the Left Front in Paschim Banga. But definitely that shall not be the last.

Guys, hands off democracy; we shall not tolerate even a “benevolent” dictatorship; call it Lokpal, call it anything. Just get lost.

Why Goa became “India’s Tourism Mecca” ?

In Goa at Crossroads on February 21, 2013 at 1:07 am

Goa at Crossroads

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“’Eight-finger Eddie’, the original American ‘freak’ who discovered and popularised Goa as a 1960s hippy haven, has died, aged 85.” reported The Telegraph at 6:05PM BST on 28 Oct 2010. “Yertward Mazmanian, an Armenian-American, arrived in Goa in the early 1960s, fell in love with its tropical beaches and lifestyle, and later established a flea-market in Anjuna, North Goa, which became a ‘Mecca’ for hippies throughout the world. … His role put the former Portuguese colony on the tourist map.”

EddieWhy did the beatniks and hippies choose to settle down in Goa ? As they drove down overland from Kathmandu “on bikes, beetles and magic buses“, ‘tropical beaches’ were all over the west and the east coast from Dwarka to Kovalam, and Puri to Nagapattinam; just in the close neighbourhood, and no different, were Shiroda and Karwar – that would very much fit the description “a tiny hamlet with a few tea stalls and houses dotting a pristine sandy beach“, that Mazmanian uses for Anjuna. But they chose Goa. The clue probably lay in the phrase one stumbles upon again and again in the literature about the advent of hippies : “a former Portuguese enclave”.

What did that former Portuguese enclave offer, that others did not ? The ease of communicating in an European language ? A culturally ‘at home’ feeling ? Familiar cuisine ? Or, was it the laissez faire attitude ? “They were in love with this place. And we fell in love with them, because of the way they lived.”, an Associated Press despatch for Oct 28, 2010 quotes a local, Dominic Fernandes, 65.

Goa’s USP of “yahan to kuch bhi chalta hai” has stuck on. No wonder Tarun Tejpal blurted it out at the end of the first day of the Tehelka magazine’s Goa bash, ThinkFest 2011 : “Now that you are in Goa, drink as much as you want, … sleep with whoever you think of.” It’s not just Tejpal; hordes of Indian tourists come to Goa with a lifetime dream : to experience the never before, never again.

Today we are caught in a time warp; what we let happen innocently or lazily, has become our distinguishing mark. Let me quote to you from a blog by Som Bhatta, I stumbled upon on a travel site. This is what he has got to say : “I’ve been there as a tourist, which makes me a part of a very large club. Goans are an easygoing and friendly people. They are also deeply religious in general, with a Portuguese Catholic background. The men tend to drop out of secondary school while the women keep studying. The men are content to earn enough money in a day for their heart’s content of beer and xacuti (Goan style pork or chicken) in the evening, and will typically work no more than that. And the roaring tourist trade makes that easy for them. Many more just immigrate to Portugal and onward to other places. As dual citizens, they have that right. Cost of living is moderate by Indian standards; neither cheap nor expensive. There’s not much industry in Goa to speak of, so most people depend on the tourist trade for a living. The local language is Konkani, a hybrid between Marathi and Kannada, the languages of the two adjacent states. The old people still speak Portuguese, but they are now a diminishing minority.”

FotoSketcher - bobNot only do others label us that way, and would like us to continue to be that, but we ourselves believe us to be so.  And we want to build our future around it. We now recognize tourism as the mainstay of Goan economy, along with, may be mining.

It may seem too late to stir up a debate on tourism or no tourism. Tourism in Goa is a big business today. It is not just hotels and restaurants, travel agents and boat cruises, curio shops and discos, casinos and New Year bashes. It goes much beyond that. Take the real estate industry for instance; Goa is the summer capital for some, winter capital for others. Or the drug trade. So many other things came with tourism, and have stayed.