by Nandkumar Kamat
One of the concerns associated with the current debate on special economic zones (SEZs) relates to the heavy influx of migrant labour. The obvious consequences of such influx are seen in terms of demographic dilution of the Goans leading to their political and social marginalization within a few years. There are limited choices for Goa and Goans. Either they would have to reconcile to the fact that a new Goa with multiple identities would emerge inevitably or treat Goa unfairly as their private property.
However, in the coming years Goans would have to step aside and be compelled by circumstances to make space to accommodate the new settlers and their vocal leadership. Goa would no longer remain a melting pot of different cultures but in all certainty would be a distillation flask which would produce the distillate of a new Goan personality. If we become only the prisoners of poetic nostalgia then the dynamics of the transformation would be lost. The present trend clearly points to a radical phenomenon of demographic engineering about which the Goans would not be able to do anything constitutionally because they, their rulers and their misguided developmental and macroeconomic policies have made Goa a Mecca for migrants. Even if SEZs are scrapped this process would not halt. Goa’s infrastructure, economy, business, wholesale and retail trade and commerce, fisheries and tourism, telecom, shipbuilding and navigation, solid waste collection and disposal depends heavily on the unskilled, skilled or semi-skilled migrant labour force.
There are well-entrenched and well-established cartels which Goans would not be able to take over. Goa has not yet warmed up to a realistic developmental debate. All the movements in the past were based on sentimental exploitation of the masses and completely failed to predict the economic, social and ecological destiny of Goa. One of the battle cries during the opinion poll movement was pre-empting the ‘influx’ of Marathi speakers. Fears had been raised that tiny Goa would be taken over by the Maharashtrians if the pro-mergerists were to have their say. Goa retained its’ union territory status. The alleged Maharashtrian colonization did not happen. The Marathi speakers form an insignificant section of the migrant population. But migration was taking place after large projects such as the Mandovi and Zuari bridges, Anjuna and Sealulim dams were initiated. With the development and expansion of the Mormugao Port Trust the shipbuilding industry created opportunities for migrant skilled and semi-skilled workers. The tourism boom began in 1980. That caused the first major intra-state labour shift. Goans in tourism areas immediately discarded their traditional occupations and jumped on the lucrative tourism bandwagon. They did not have the vision to pursue both the enterprises simultaneously. It is comic today to read that the Lamani trinket sellers in Colva are not afraid of the local police. The Lamanis are merely occupying an economic space created by ill-planned tourism.
The 1975-95 period saw a revolution in mechanized trawling. The labour deficit in this sector was met by the migrants from southern and eastern India. The ban on coastal silica sand exploitation in 1977 served as a boon for alluvial sand mining from rivers which attracted labour from Karnataka.
The Sanjivani sugar factory was another driving force behind labour influx. The 19 industrial estates attracted migrant labour for jobs which Goans found impossible to do. The phenomenal rate of urbanization between 1981 and 2001 could also be linked to a massive expansion of the urban construction industry. According to 2001 census nearly two lakh migrants are been permanently settled in Goa. Hindus and Muslims account for a majority of them. Naturally this migration trend is seen to be jeopardizing the political, social, cultural and economic space of Goa’s religious minorities unprepared to accommodate such a large influx.
The inheritance of Goans is determined by the civil code which is not applicable to any migrant settler. Goans circumscribe their cultural and social life within institutions like the temple or parish church committees and the village communidades - privileged institutions which are presently barred to non-Goan migrants.
The exclusive cocoon of Goan identity sustained by some Portuguese laws would be now pierced by the forces of globalization. Goan society would now need an important mid- course correction. Konkani, the official langauage did not become their economic and cultural shield. Concerns had been expressed during the language agitation that Marathi speaking Maharashtrians would compete with Konkani speaking Goans in employment. This was a probably a major reason to deny the official language status to Marathi in 1987. But after 20 years Goans are still agitating over issues which have no connection to the dreams which were painted after passing of the official language act. Konkani has almost vanished from the port town of Vasco da Gama. The fear of the heavy influx of migrants were raised during the agitation for the realignment of Konkan railway route. There is no doubt that the Konkan railway route has become a vehicle of accelerated economic transformation between Roha to Mangalore. Goa failed to derive strategic benefit from this route because economic and industrial activities which could have roped in Goans were not planned simultaneously. Therefore thousands of jackfruits are allowed to rot in Goa when there was a demand in North India for this tropical delicacy. But fish from Coromandel coast are made readily available in the local market at premium price by the enterprising Telugu traders.
It is too late for Goa to undo the self-destructive model of development which is inevitably leading to demographic engineering. The visible impact of demographic engineering is the demographic transition. Even neighbouring Maharashtra is experiencing this phenomenon, if one reads the text of the address delivered by the Union Minister for Agriculture, Mr Sharad Pawar on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Marathi weekly ‘Sakal’. The text is published as a cover story in the weekly’s December 8 issue and could serve as an eye opener for all those who are debating Goa’s developmental and social problems. Mr Pawar has categorically expressed concerns over the demographic changes, labour and sectoral shifts occurring in New Mumbai, Thana, Nagpur, Pune and Nasik on account of migration. Most of the questions which he has raised in this well prepared address are also applicable to Goa.
Goa’s politicians have been avoiding these questions and have been embracing self-destructive and unsustainable models of development. Demographic engineering could happen as a deliberate state policy or it could take place as a natural fallout of economic, industrial and infrastructural development. Goa won the battles of opinion poll, official language, statehood, railway route realignment but lost the race to build a sustainable society without demographic dilution. The bitterness of defeat is stamped now on every agitation.