Tuesday 18 June 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

Infrastructure | Ports

Centre not for financial free port in Goa


Goan industrialists want to make it a centre of offshore banking in the country, while setting up the free port. But the centre seems to be having a second opinion, probably because other states are also lobbying for it.

But will the idea of free port come true in Goa, the first choice of the Rounaq Singh committee set up by the centre ? The question arises also because the stiff opposition the proposal is facing from the local environmentalists, academicians and NGOs.

When he disclosed four different models of free port centre is having in mind, Dr Ashok Prasad, a professor of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, has clearly hinted that Goa is not considered for the model of financial free port.

"Having the proper infrastructure available, you should either go for a free port in hospitality sector or in ship maintenance", he told the gathering at a seminar held here to debate on the issue.

"Don't simply impose anything on us. Offshore banking is a right model for Goa.", Dattaraj Salgaoncar, the GCCI president, clearly told him at the seminar, organised jointly by the GCCI and Goa International Centre.

Since several other states are lobbying to have the free port in their respective territories, Salgaoncar however admits that they should act fast.

While preparing a feasibility report for Goan model of free port, he has also assured local environmentalists and academicians to consider all the valid suggestions.

But chief minister Pratapsing Rane expects even more than that. Besides the offshore banking, he also suggests Free Trade Zone here. "With all the modern infrastructural facilities planned for a next decade, Goa will be a hub of trade and commerce in next century", he claims.

"Goa definitely has a potential to be first to go global", admits V A Pai Palondikar, director of Indian Centre for Policy Research, a Goan by origin. Goa can have a modern and financially and technologically advanced port, on the lines of the Singapore model, he adds.

But the kind of model is not the only concern. Confusion still prevails among the environmentalists and academicians here on what impact it would have on Goa's social and cultural environment.

"There is no cultural cause, if only part of the state is made the free port", states Palondikar, but asserts that the free port authority should be accountable to the state government.

Jitendra Deshprabhu, an industrialist, however strongly promotes whole Goa as the free port, it being a city state and environmentally suitable.

. "No doubt necessary environment exists here for a free port. But it should be primarily in the interest of Goa, taking its environmental impact into consideration", opines Gen Sunith Rodricks, the former army chief of India, who took initiative in organising the seminar.

Pointing out at environmental degradation in the state because mining and tourism activities were promoted here without an impact-related programme, Prof Joe D'Souza of the Goa University strongly demands inculcating social cost in the cost-benefit analysis.

Roland Martins, who is fighting against ill effects of tourism, demands an opinion poll on the issue, like Goa had one in 1967 to decide on its merger in Maharashtra. He also points out that the tourism master plan, which is under consideration, would clash with the idea of free port.

"Don't hide what amendments you want to have to the Constitution of India and the labour laws. It should not violate the democratic principles of our country", warns Mathany Saldhana, leader of the fishermen's association.

Equally worried is Dr Nandkumar Kamat, the environmental researcher. "If Goa decides to have a free port without considering sentiments of the cross sections of the society, then urban guerrillas will emerge with arms to fight the free port," he cautions.

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