Goa netas plough fields, plant paddy… all for a Facebook challenge

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Panaji, July 4 (IANS) Known more for their slithery manoeuvres in political muck, Goas netas, all of a sudden, appear to have woken up to the wonders of farming and getting their hands and feet soiled in slushy paddy fields.

A Facebook challenge thrown by the Siddesh Bhagat, “sarpanch” of Aquem Baixo, who last week uploaded photographs of himself planting paddy saplings and threw a challenge to Congress legislator Aleixo Reginaldo, now has several politicians, including cabinet ministers, stripping down to their shorts.

“Have seen strikes where farmers have to move on to (state) assembly or Parliament to fight for their rights or to put forward their demands. How will it be, when MLAs and Ministers themselves come to meet their farmers and know their demands and issues they face,” Bhagat said on his Facebook post, challenging MLAs and other politicians.

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The first to respond to the challenge was Congress MLA Reginaldo, who took to a tractor to plough his paddy field and posted photos and a video on Facebook.

“I accepted your farming challenge Siddesh Bhagat, my heart is always in the fields with my farmers. They are my family. I would like to give my next farming challenge to (Revenue Minister) Rohan Khaunte,” Reginaldo said.

The dapper Khaunte, who operates a popular nightclub and has real estate interests, followed suit with a newish singlet, smeared with visible streaks of mud, shorts and a towel wrapped around his head to complete the grunge look.

“Challenge accepted! The farming community has always been dear to me and I will always strive to see them prosper. I nominate our senior leader Luizinho Faleiro to carry out the same.” Khaunte said, also adding that a private members’ bill proposed by Faleiro, a former Chief Minister and Congress MLA, to ban sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists would be passed unanimously in the upcoming monsoon session of the state legislative assembly. Lawmakers, he said, understand the importance of agriculture.

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Last but not the least, the state’s Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai too pitched in with his two bit worth.

While questioning the need for a social media challenge, Sardesai said Goa needed to rediscover agriculture because the state was dependant on neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Karnataka, for agricultural produce.

“We need to be self-sustained,” he said, soon after planting paddy saplings during the inauguration of a cosmic farming initiative in the state.

While the campaign has attracted praise from some quarters, there are others who believe that, at best, it is a photo opportunity and that the time spent by legislators posing as farmers could be used more judiciously.

“Now that you have initiated to farm these lands, launch a drive also to save all these farmlands and stop all illegal construction and activities mushrooming in this farmland and orchard properties in your respective areas. Will you dare accept this open challenge?” Tanvir Khatib, a senior member of the ruling Goa Forward party, said on the social media site.

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Tourism, mining and the service sectors have overshadowed the agricultural sector in Goa over the last few decades, leading to rampant real estate development, which has seen large tracts of paddy fields converted to set up commercial and residential projects.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])



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