Protests against Goa Defence Expo to continue, say NGOs

Panaji, Feb 22 (IANS) Stepping up protests against the upcoming Defexpo 2016, the Federation of Rainbow Warriors, a collective of NGOs, on Monday said the international event organised by the defence ministry should not be hosted at the eco-sensitive Quitol plateau in Goa.

The collective show of strength came after a recent comment by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar that first information reports would be filed against those opposing the defence expo which is due to start on March 28.

“These plateau lands have the highest eco-sensitivity and no activities except grazing, farming and forestry can be allowed on this plateau,” Abhijit Prabhudesai, general secretary of the federation, told reporters on Monday.

“The plateau is the best recharge area in the country with unbelievable water retention due to the highly porous ore-rich laterite surface, which must be maintained in pristine condition to preserve the extremely sensitive water regime of the region,” he said.

Traditionally held in the national capital, the expo will be held in Goa this year because a new convention centre is being built at Pragati Maidan.

However, the Defexpo 2016, the ninth in the series of biennial land, naval and internal homeland security systems exhibitions organised by the ministry, has attracted opposition from the BJP-led government’s political opponents as well as a section of the civil society over the allocation of six lakh square metres of land in the coastal village in Betul, 45 km from Panaji, to the ministry for the event.

Parsekar and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, a former chief minister of Goa, have however said land was only being handed over to the defence ministry on a temporary basis and the event would benefit local entrepreneurs and service providers.

After the Congress and NGOs staged a protest at the venue on February 15, Parsekar said protesters would be dealt with sternly.

“If anyone creates hurdles in hosting of the defence expo, the state government will have to file FIR against the person. We will not tolerate this high-handedness,” Parsekar told reporters on February 19.

On allegations by the federation about the possibility of land grab of the Quitol plateau by the defence ministry in the guise of organising the expo, Parsekar said the land would be formally handed over to the ministry only for four days for the event.

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