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Goa’s coconut grows from ‘grass’ to tree

Critics say the restoration of coconut palm’s status is more rooted in political reality. Two assembly by-polls — including the election of chief minister Manohar Parrikar to the house — is due later this month and the government is out to rectify its image.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2017 23:49 IST
Nida Khan
Nida Khan
Hindustan Times, Panaji
Goa,Coconut trees,Manohar Parrikar
The BJP-led government headed by chief minister Manohar Parrikar is reluctant to talk about its change of heart on the coconut palm’s status.(PTI File Photo)

The coconut palm tree in Goa is standing tall again, having reclaimed its status as a ‘tree’ a year after the state government downgraded it to ‘grass’.

The state assembly amended the Goa, Daman and Diu (Preservation) of Trees Act, 1984, last week following intense debates and immense pressure brought on the BJP-led government of the state to restore the coconut palm’s pride.

“We were committed to make coconut as the state tree as it reflects the uniqueness of the coastal state. It was a complete wrong move to have stripped it of its status of a tree in 2016,” said Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party.

Opposition parties and environmentalists alike had been opposed to the government’s move to declassify the coconut palm as a tree from the very beginning. Tens of thousands of such trees dot the coastal state and critics alleged its declassification was to facilitate businesses to clear land for commercial projects. They said the move will result in “mass massacre of coconut palm trees across the state”.

Sardesai’s Goa Forward Party, now an ally of the BJP government, fought assembly elections earlier this year on the principal issue of restoring the coconut palm’s original status. The logo of the party is also the tree that was top on its election manifesto.

The Congress views the reclassification of the coconut palm as a victory of principles. “I am glad better sense has prevailed. When you brought the amendment last time round, we said it was not right,” legislator Digambar Kamat reminded the state government during last week’s assembly discussion.

The BJP-led government headed by chief minister Manohar Parrikar is reluctant to talk about its change of heart on the coconut palm’s status. But opponents say its push to facilitate business houses by sacrificing the trees was unpopular and had played a key role in bringing down its tally in the assembly from 21 to 13 seats. The BJP formed the government again only after it managed to scramble together a post-election alliance with other parties.

Critics say the restoration of coconut palm’s status is more rooted in political reality. Two assembly by-polls — including the election of chief minister Parrikar to the house — is due later this month and the government is out to rectify its image.

“The BJP failed to get a majority in the assembly elections because people were unhappy with the commercial approach they developed by sanctioning the permission to projects including beer factories in Quepem and Sanguem. By making it the state tree, the party is simply trying to win back the trust of the people,” said Miguel Briganza, an environmentalist and botanical expert.

Rajendra Kerkar, another environmentalist, agreed, saying the state’s love for the coconut palm was only skin deep. “These amendments and assurances are just methods to fool the public. If a developer wants a parcel of land by doing away with the trees, he will still get his way. Agricultural officers vested with the authority to grant permission to fell trees are normally pliable,” he said.

ends

First Published: Aug 14, 2017 23:49 IST