At the recently concluded Goa Carnaval 2016 parades, I witnessed many artistically designed floats depicting larger-than-life traditional Goan fruits, vegetables, fish, wild animals and the Mando in all its glory as a treat for the eyes of thousands of people who had lined the streets of the parade route, among which there were number of floats which sent out a strong message in support of the Swachh Bharath campaign and against the ills of drugs, child labour, and deforestation. One float that really caught my eyes was the float bringing out an awareness among the Goans and others, about the dumb Goan politicians ruling the state saying that Coconut tree is no more a tree, but a grass or shrub. A recent amendment to the Goa Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act 1984 which has dropped the coconut tree from the official list of trees, found representation in many floats, urging citizens to save the tree.
Since I wanted to know more about on this issue, I approached a few locals who were getting out after a Saturday evening mass last week- One Goan arrogantly said , “Who is the government to classify the coconut tree as grass? It’s all politicians corrupt and game tactics. With the government amending the Trees Act to renounce the ‘tree status’ for the coconut tree, it is now possible for industrialists and builders to assert their will on coconut plantations. With the tree now being given the status of a shrub, builders do not need to approach the forest department to cut them, thus increasing manifold the amount of land to build on. The coconut is vital to the lifestyle and culture of every Goan. Even the simplest fish curry is made with a coconut base. Hence, by getting rid of coconut trees in the state, Goan livelihood and culture will be compromised”..
The issue is very significant because Goans are in a situation where they have to imagine a Goa without coconut trees. The government has now stated that their beloved coconut tree will no longer be called a tree, but a shrub or grass. The government has gone into technicalities and played around with the Trees Act, which states that the coconut tree was not always classified as a tree before and was included in the classification in 2008 because they had to deal with fallen trees. The sum and substance is that by taking the coconut tree off the list of trees, the government has made it possible for big projects and industrialists from outside to destroy large tracts of coconut plantations without having to go to the forest department for permissions.
It is important to look at it not just as a conservation issue, not just from a social issue, but as a backhanded attempt by the government to knock down the last bastions of what Goa is all about. It’s begun with a serious problem, which also reflects what Goa is about, and that is the problem of falling coconut trees. What do you do when a coconut tree is going to fall on somebody else’s property? Under the Trees Act, you need to get permission to cut any tree. The Trees Act was notified in 1984. From that time, till 2008, there was an unwritten understanding with the Forest Department that the coconut tree is such a species that you don’t need to get permission for felling it. For whatever reasons, if you cut a coconut tree, the authorities wouldn’t say that you violated the Trees Act. It was a practical understanding that the coconut tree would not be considered for the purposes of the Act. There’s a good reason for it, which is: no Goa would cut a coconut tree. All Goans have raised coconut trees, many Goans have seen them from the day they were put into the ground.
It’s sad to note that at many places the government is going to knock all the trees off. No Goan is going to cut a coconut tree because it is everything to the Goenkar. The Forest Department thought that Goans would only cut only diseased trees or trees that were falling, but they would not unnecessarily cut a tree. The problem has come now. Certain people are coming into Goa and they have purchased orchards of coconut trees. They want to cut these coconut trees and put up buildings. That is why the changes are being made. But by local support and protests this can be legally tackled? The coconut tree can be protected, and it has to be protected. First of all, the government has declared that the tree is a grass, in the sense that it can be cut easily. This entire issue is builder-friendly. Goans need to fight for the tree and protect it. Seems it is like ‘Chipko movement’ like it was done in Uttar Pradesh.
One would ask, what is the significance of the tree to Goan culture, tradition, history, etc? The food heritage of Goa is associated with the coconut. In every aspect of Goa’s food, the coconut is involved. The famous Goan fish curry cannot be done without the coconut. It is the Kalpavriksha. There are so many aspects of Goa’s lifestyle that involve it. The huts were incomplete without it. The St Catherine Chapel in Old Goa, when ordered its construction in 1510, it was basically dried coconut palm fronds. The coconut tree avenues provide natural beauty to Goa. It is part of Goan natural heritage, Goan cultural heritage, Goan historical heritage, and Goan social heritage. So, if the coconut tree is taken away, what is Goa left with? ask many Goans.
It should be noted that Goans fought against mining destruction and environmental destruction. Don’t you think this is on that same scale that Goans should raise and fight for the cause? What else will be left in Goa? From that the government will go further. It will go to the jack fruit tree and mango tree. Who has given this power to the government to declare what is a tree and what is not a tree? Are the Chief Minister and Environment Minister botanists first of all? Don’t they know that these species are mentioned as trees in all botany books? Does any where it is mentioned that the coconut tree as a coconut bush? We always call it a bush or a shrub. Just because it is an elected government, it does not mean it can suddenly decide water is not water and the Western Ghats are not the Western Ghats and mining is agriculture. This nonsense has to stop and the people must object.
Looks like the Goan BJP government has crossed all limits. This is the last nail in their coffin. As one social activist has rightly said, “Who is the government to classify the coconut tree as grass? Just because they have been elected, they do not have the power to redefine every aspect of Goa. Do Goans have to alter out textbooks to suit these people? Are they educated people? This government is anti-environment, anti-people, anti-Goa. They have done this to please the builders. This is a builder-friendly government. Why is the tree avenue at Guirim being cut? It is because of the builders”.
In conclusion, It is urgent that every Goan rises up against this kind of development. This type of development is actually keeping people undeveloped. Goans are left behind as development goes ahead. Every Goan should think about how the government is leaving them behind. Coconut trees come from their ancestors, who are indebted to them. This is an extremely serious fight and allowing the murder of coconut trees is something that is going to harm every Goan home. This is something that one needs to fight and stop. This has to be a fight to the finish because the basic Goan identity is at stake. If it’s coconut today, it can be anything tomorrow. Goans have to fight, and and I am sure they will fight. Long live Goans! Long Live the Coconut Tree!