Church accused of 'playing politics' in Goa

Minister claims church is supporting environmental protest to destabilize Indian state's government
Church accused of 'playing politics' in Goa

Visitors walk amid the ruins of St. Augustine Church, one of the oldest Catholic structures still remaining in Old Goa, in September 2016. The church has been accused of opposing all development projects in the Indian state. (Photo Indranil Mukherjee/AFP) 


Villagers in India's Goa state have started a hunger strike against environmental policies amid accusations that the Catholic Church supports such protests. 

They started the hunger strike on May 9 as part of their opposition to the Planning and Development Authority (PDA), which they claim is implementing a regional plan to take over farmland and water bodies in several villages to develop tourism projects threatening the environment. 

"Under the garb of the plan, officials help private players to occupy private and public land such as beach fronts. The state government helps the tourism lobby take over village land and river fronts," said Avertino Miranda, an environmental activist. 

On April 27, about 2,000 people marched through the state capital demanding the PDA scrap the plan.

The state's Town and Country Planning Ministry, which will hold a crucial meeting on May 16, developed the regional plan purportedly to rationalize use of land in the smallest Indian state, which is facing a land crunch for infrastructure and housing projects.

Villagers are demanding denotification of all villages listed by the PDA for land acquisition and an amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act restoring power to villagers in the planning process, said protest convener Arturo Dsouza. 

Green activist Avertino Miranda told that people's opposition increased after government officers violated norms to take over private and public land on behalf of industrialists and hoteliers by setting up the PDA.



As protests increased last month, two videos went viral on social media claiming that the Catholic Church in Goa has opposed all development projects including railway schemes, promotion of the local language and an institute of technical studies.

They also accused the church of striking a secret deal with the Congress party to destabilize the state government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.

Town and Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardesai told media that protesters were making "anarchic demands." He also accused the church of "playing politics to destabilize the government."

One of the videos claimed the church is the largest owner of non-agricultural land usurped from Hindu temples during the Portuguese colonial years (1510-1961).

"For 450 years, the church has ruled and destroyed your culture because of your silence," it said, alluding to the Portuguese period.

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The videos are "obviously the work of elements who are frustrated and upset over" the work of Goa Archdiocese's Council for Social Justice and Peace, which has been supporting the people's protest, said Father Savio Fernandes, executive secretary of the council.

The anonymous videos attempt to cast aspersions on the church and its policies, the priest said. Such attempts will not deter the church to move away from the path of justice.

The church has been apolitical but will always stand with people for their legitimate concerns, Father Fernandes said.

Of Goa's 1.8 million people, about 25 percent are Christians, almost all Catholics.


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