Fri, 19 Jul, 2019

Market scam may weigh in on Panaji bypoll verdict

15th May 2019, 03:10 Hrs

the goan I network

PANAJI   

In the seven years since 2012, Panaji has witnessed four elections to choose a representative in the Goa Legislative Assembly. Every one of these four democratic exercises were held under the specter of the brazen market scam, which unfolded over a decade ago, with the tacit support of the political-bureaucratic ecosystem both at the State level as well as at the city’s Corporation.  

Yet the chaos that the scam has inflicted on the capital city’s only major market that registers massive footfalls on a daily basis, has failed to move even an inch towards resolution despite umpteen instances of rival politicians trading charges and making it a political issue at the polls. On Sunday, when the 22,000-plus electorate will get to vote and choose their next MLA after the death of the market’s creator - Manohar Parrikar - the scam will certainly play on their mind.  

The Redevelopment of the Panaji Municipal Market project was undertaken in the early 2000s in around the years 2002-2003. The Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) were the clients, and the Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation (GSIDC) were the contractors.  

Why did the project have to be undertaken? The old Panaji market was like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, said one of the people associated with the then project. The old market was plagued with safety as well as sanitation issues. People were pulling electrical connections from anywhere, and there was a serious need for a new market.  

So the GSIDC was brought in to put in place a new market. For the new project, which was a bigger market space than the old project, land had to be parceled. Land was acquired from the Directorate of Health Services (DHS), and the PWD, and part of the land already belonged to the CCP.  

The project took around two years to complete, and was inaugurated in around 2004. Once it was inaugurated, various vendors entered the market in phases. These can be broadly categorised into three: the small and medium vendors called the sopos, the stalls, and the mezzanine shops. As the market is owned by the CCP, these vendors are the tenants of the CCP. However, no lease deeds were signed at the time these vendors entered the market.  

What is the issue if no lease deeds were signed? The problem lies in the fact that crores of rupees were spent to construct the new market. Besides this, there is daily expenditure like water, electricity, cleaning, repairs, and garbage collection fees. The market is a commercial space where vendors are running businesses, thus making a profit. However, taxpayers’ money is being spent on paying the expenditure incurred for the market. All these fees and expenditures were a part of the agreement that the tenants i.e. the vendors refused to sign.   

Why did the tenants refuse to sign the lease deeds drawn up by the GSIDC? The tenants in the old market were paying rent that was very little. Since the new market was built, new rules and regulations, new rates came into force. Under the Panjim Market Tenants Association, the tenants objected to these new rates, and so did not sign the lease deeds. So, in lieu of the lease deeds, since the vendors moved in anyway, the space occupied by the vendors becomes a largesse by the CCP i.e. like a gift to the vendors. However, the CCP cannot give a gift to the vendors and make the public bear the brunt of the expenditure.  

The CCP council has to take the decision of whether to make the vendors sign the lease deeds, or evict them if they fail to sign, as every day they are there is a loss to the CCP. However, no decision to this front has been forthcoming.   

A PIL had been filed in the year 2014 (writ petition no 23/2014) in this regard, but no action had been taken.   

The mayor Uday Madkaikar has said that the CCP will sign the agreements with the vendors after the May 23 election results are announced.   

Luis Velho, who lives directly opposite the market reiterated that the market was very poorly maintained. He also added that the traffic situation in front of the market was so chaotic, that it looked like the law of the jungle prevailed. He also said that the absence of traffic police led one to believe that even they were helpless in this jungle.   

Representative from the Market Tenant’s Association (MTA) told the Goan that the project started in 2003 and was planned by the then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, the market vendors requested him to undertake the project as the corridors of the old market were in a dilapidated condition. The late CM agreed to their demands and according to MTA, Parrikar promised to safeguard their interest.  

While the new market complex was coming up, the vendors from the old market were shifted temporarily near Inox and other places but according to them, they trusted Parrikar not to cheat them and they emptied the old market.  

The first preference to enter the new market was given to the old vendors. These vendors had had been running their business since the Portuguese times and later on their children succeeded them in running the business.   

In 2003, a soft lease agreement prepared and the MTA claims that this was done because Parrikar was sympathetic towards them. Later, the vendors were told to pay the construction cost of the new market building and subsequently some of them paid their share of the cost while some paid half of it.   

According to a representative of the MTA, they were protected by the Mundkar Act because they were Mundkars. After that the Parrikar government fell and the market project slowed down. By this point shifting was already done. Those who had moved to the new market complex were already there but since the government fell, they didn’t pursue the matter of the lease agreement. According to the market vendors they had paid some amount and they had the right to be there.   

According to MTA, they have paid rent till 2009 and they used to pay the rent in the bank. After that a new agreement was made. The CCP wanted them to sign the new agreement but the vendors’ demand is that they want to sign the 2003 agreement because they have paid the rent after that as well as the construction fees. They say that they don’t want to be aggressive but since they are poor vendors, the CCP should take their demands into consideration.   

They say they’ve had four to five meetings with the ex-Mayor Vithal Chopdekar in this regards. They also claim that after Manohar Parrikar returned to Goa after serving as the Union Defence Minister in 2017, he had once again promised that their demands will be safeguarded. Now the market vendors demand that CCP give them time because their business has experienced a decline due to new shops being set up elsewhere in the city. The association claimed that since the government is giving many big companies some concessions, the vendors also be given some concessions. The vendors are willing to sign an agreement as long as the terms are mutually agreed.  

Sighting another issue, MTA claimed that they are struggling to keep the market clean. They also alleged that the garbage problem has claimed a few lives. They’ve told the CCP on several occasions to tackle the garbage problems.  

Speaking on the issue former Mayor Surendra Furtado claims, “When I was a mayor, we had sent an estimate of Rs 5 crore to the government for cameras, maintenance, pavers opposite fish market. Government rejected it asking us to collect the rent of the market tenants first... former CCP Commissioner Ajit Roy IAS to see to the affairs... I had tried everything to sign the lease agreement. We had a number of meetings with the lawyers...”