Electoral Challenges, Prosecuting Illegal Mining, and Raising Revenue: An Interview with Elvis Gomes, the AAP’s CM Candidate in Goa

Elvis Gomes, the chief ministerial candidate for the Aam Aadmi Party in the upcoming assembly elections. AAP Media Team
28 December, 2016

On 19 December 2016, the chief minister of Delhi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal named Elvis Gomes the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the forthcoming legislative elections in Goa. Gomes is a veteran bureaucrat in the state government who was serving as the inspector general for prisons. Before taking voluntary retirement earlier this year, he also held an additional charge as the urban development secretary. Previously, he had served as the director of municipal administration and tourism and the managing director of the Goa Housing Board, an autonomous body responsible for providing housing facilities in the state.

But four days after being Kejriwal’s announcement, at a press conference in Panjim called by the AAP to discuss its plans for state welfare schemes, Gomes seemed an embattled figure. That day, the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau had summoned him for questioning in relation to a five-year-old land scam case involving more than 30,000 square metres of land in Madgaon. The ACB had charged Gomes with cheating and criminal conspiracy, alleging that, in his capacity as managing director of the Housing Board, he had acquired land, converted the land zone from orchard to settlement, and then returned it to the owner. A day earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party had filed complaints against the AAP, before the Goa director general of police and the chief electoral officer. The BJP alleged that the AAP’s hoardings in the state insinuated that the Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar was dishonest.

After the press conference, Ajachi Chakrabarti, an independent journalist, spoke to the chief ministerial candidate. They discussed the challenges that Gomes expected to face in the upcoming assembly elections, the promises that the AAP has made to voters, the allegations against him concerning the land scam, and the issues that he would have to address if elected.

Ajachi Chakrabarti: In India, it is always a tall order for a new political party to seize power in its first electoral foray in a state. How confident are you of becoming the next chief minister of Goa, and what do you base your confidence upon?

Elvis Gomes: Aam Aadmi Party is confident of forming the next government. That is because of the disenchantment with the present dispensation, that is, the BJP and earlier, the Congress. What has happened is that in 2012, riding on the sentiments of the people who were frustrated with the Congress regime, the BJP made tall promises and came to power. None of those have been fulfilled. Several U-turns have been taken on major issues, and therefore, now there is an alternative before the people. As I said [at the press conference], people have woken up [to the AAP] a little slowly, but now they have really woken up. The turning point was the last meeting of Mr Kejriwal held [on 19 December] in south Goa, in Cuncolim. You could see from the response that people have decided now to go for a change.

­AC: In June 2016, the Anti-Corruption Bureau had charged you, along with the former state tourism minister Nilkant Halarnkar, with the offences of cheating and criminal conspiracy, for which you were summoned again by the ACB on 23 December. How do you respond to these allegations?

EG: I do not own a single piece of land, and neither would I be interested in doing so. This so-called Housing Board scam that they are talking about has to do with a proposed land acquisition of some area in Madgaon. A resolution was taken by the board to drop those proceedings [for the acquisition of the land, reportedly on 19 March 2011]. It is for them to find out whether proposing to do something and then dropping that action becomes an offence under any criminal law. Assuming that something has happened, that gratification has passed from one hand to another, it is first to be identified whether there was a giver and whether there was a taker. To the best of my knowledge, nothing of this kind has surfaced. Lastly, where my role is concerned, the action of dropping this [process for the acquisition of the disputed land] had happened two months prior to my joining the department [as managing director, reportedly on 11 May 2011]. So how could I even remotely get linked to that? Simply dragging my name into this to create a controversy about me is one thing. Facing that is another thing, and emerging out of that [unscathed], which I can guarantee anybody today, will be the best thing.

AC: In Goa, which has tiny constituencies and powerful MLAs, incumbency has always been a major advantage. Your party will have to fight elections in Goa’s 40 constituencies for the first time and, in several constituencies, prop up relative newcomers against seasoned veterans. What will it take to overcome this disadvantage?

EG: Today, it is an electronic age. The mindset of the people today, particularly the younger generation, is different. That seasoned politicians have been ruling for a long time is an admitted position. But for the first time before the people, the Aam Aadmi Party has thrown up candidates who are professionals in their own fields, who have come out to serve society, who are clean, transparent, honest, and sincere. People have been demanding these kinds of faces even in the traditional parties, which they do not get. Now that AAP has given these kinds of faces, the gravitation towards AAP has already started. Don’t be surprised if many of these seasoned veterans are thrown out this time.

AC: On 20 December, in your first press conference as AAP’s chief ministerial candidate, you had said that your government’s most important goal would be to challenge this structure by minimising, even eliminating, the role of MLAs in day-to-day governance delivery. Could you elaborate on how you plan to accomplish this?

EG: How does it happen in developed countries? I have been to so many countries. I have never heard the people there talking about having to go to a particular senator or legislator to get their basic requirements. Let us take the case of water connections. Why should someone go to their MLA or municipal councillor for a water connection? He needs a water connection, it is a basic necessity. Just fill a form, whether it is online or offline, and give it. The administrative machinery must process it and see to it that he gets a connection. Here is a case where you [the incumbent government] have subjugated the people and made them dependent. [The government wants] the people to think, “Oh, a great favour has been done. That MLA has released this water connection and given a certificate.” This is what we want to eliminate. We want to do away with this kind of nepotism and make the process so transparent and people-friendly that people being sent away from [public] offices and [being asked to] get an MLA’s recommendation is done away with.

AC: In August, Arvind Kejriwal reportedly said that the AAP would work out a sustainable and scientific model to govern mining in Goa. As a bureaucrat who has seen the devastation that unchecked mining can bring, and is seeking to represent the Cuncolim constituency, a mining-dependant region, what would such a model as proposed by Kejriwal look like to you?

EG: For everything you have to strike a balance, and it has to be sustainable. For the Aam Aadmi Party, the environment will continue to be very dear to our hearts. We want to preserve the picture-postcard image of Goa as long as we can do it, to the best of our ability. Mining has been going on for decades, even during the Portuguese regime. But what happened, particularly between 2007 and 2012, was something which couldn’t even have been imagined. The Congress government under Mr Digambar Kamat allowed illegal mining beyond the cap, which was about five to ten times over and above what was allowed. It was a free for all. Despite the BJP’s tall promise of punishing all the perpetrators of illegal mining, nothing has happened till date. Five years are almost coming to an end, and everybody [involved in the illegal mining] has benefited from that. The Aam Aadmi Party will see that all these cases are investigated, that the Shah Commission Report. [The central government had constituted the Shah Commission in November 2010, to inquire into the illegal mining in Goa. The commission submitted its report in March 2012. In it, the commission reportedly criticised the state and central government for being ineffective in its measures against illegal mining]. Whatever findings are there, are implemented, so that mining in the future will remain sustainable. We will come out with a proper policy paper on this.

AC: Kejriwal also talked about chasing leaseholders and recovering the wealth from the unchecked mining, and distributing it among mining dependents. These sort of punitive measures, however, are not easy to implement.

EG: Both these parties [BJP and Congress] are two sides of the same coin. They will never target one another when it actually comes to the crux of the whole issue. We are different. We will see to it that whatever recommendations are given in the Shah Commission Report and by other well-respected citizens like Claude Alvares, who has done a very thorough study of this subject, are taken to account, so that people who have committed illegalities [are prosecuted]. Why should they not be prosecuted? We will do that.

AC: Migration is a contentious issue in Goa. Large development projects, such as projects for mining or special economic zones, which were touted as a source of employment for local youth, instead became a source of employment for migrants who were brought in en masse for these projects. This caused tensions between the Goans and the migrants. What is your party’s take on the migrant issue?

EG: Migration is as old as mankind. Goans have migrated because the governments in the past 55 years have not come out with any proper opportunities to see that they are grabbed by the locals, that they have a decent living and that somebody takes care of their housing and their education. These things have not happened. That is the reason we are here today. Why was the Aam Aadmi Party born in the first instance? Out of sheer disgust that nothing concrete was happening. So the outbound migration that commenced has been accelerated, because people feel that there is nothing left for them here. And there cannot be a vacuum in society, so somebody else will come in and fill that. What we intend to do is to create these opportunities, monitor how a child grows, what he or she does after education, and try to see that somewhere, the placement of that person is done. Until such time, we will sustain them [through social schemes]. Then, why would someone even think of going away? You have to leave your family, stay alone and spend years away [from home]. What kind of living is this? So, [we will] prevent outbound migration by creating opportunities. Over and above, if someone still wants to go, that is their right. But we must see that decent wages are paid by the private sector. Even if it is a starred hotel, when we give our resources, our water, our electricity, the roads and the necessary infrastructure, what are you giving in return will be the first question. The main focus will be to see that employment is given, and decent wages are given.

AC: Many local authorities have reportedly claimed that they do not receive adequate financial assistance from the state government to build and develop infrastructure.

EG: I have been in charge of local authorities for some time. How local authorities manage themselves is also required to be well-defined. They are mostly political plants who are planted there as a show of strength for a particular politician in a particular area: “I fielded so-and-so person, and he got elected.” It has nothing to do with development. If they sit across the table and apply their minds, not only will they get revenue, they will be able to deliver services and do development, because tomorrow, we will be doing a lot of development through them. And if they do not have these capacities, there will be a big problem. So they have to do their capacity-building, they have to put proper people on the job, and then all these things are possible. Fund issue is not at all there, if you ask me, because I have handled it. The government to some extent has committed its own funding to them. They have to use it judiciously, and generate their own revenue. Crores of rupees are in arrears in several local bodies. No serious effort is made to recover them.

AC: One source of revenue in Goa are the casinos. However, Kejriwal declared that the AAP will shut down the casinos. How are you going to make up for the revenue shortfall that ensues?

EG: We have publicly declared our stance against casinos. We have demonstrated against the casinos; five to six hundred people gathered to shout slogans against casinos. There is no going back on this. The revenue which you are talking about—somebody said [in the press conference] that it would be Rs 150 crore [per year]—I will forego Rs 1,500 crore revenue, because the image of my state is at stake. My state is now known as a capital of drugs, gambling, sex, prostitution, and other nefarious activities. I would not want, and neither would the Goan people want that Goa should be identified with this picture. Therefore, Rs 150 crore is a small sum for a state. We will make up for that. And this revenue has been in recent times. How much revenue is actually getting lost through these casinos, how much black money gets converted into these casinos, also has to be taken into account. So casinos have to go; no compromise on that.

AC: Casinos are also one of the tourist attractions of Goa, and you have spoken about making tourism work in the interest of Goans. What are your measures for reforming tourism?

EG: Any action that is taken to develop tourism must have the smallest stakeholder in focus: the person of that particular soil. If you do not do that, then you have committed the greatest injustice against the son or daughter of that soil. What has happened [in Goa] is, as tourism has developed in the way they [previous state governments] have wanted it to develop, for them tourism development is to go on recklessly building hotels, mega-structures, and displacing the people. That will not be allowed to happen. We will see that a particular person of that area [sought to be developed for tourism] has a direct benefit, has a direct stake in whatever happens. Take the example of any development, whether it is state-sponsored or private—if the people of that community or that locality do not agree with it, that kind of tourism we will not allow.

This interview has been edited and condensed.