It was as though someone was testing us for our grit and commitment and the ability to carry on with work despite hardships. Yesterday afternoon, after we set off from Tara, we were stranded first with two flat tyres. It took hours to get the puncture made given that there was no power supply in the small place that we stopped at. However, it didn’t end there. In pouring rain, we managed to have some dinner at around 10.30 pm somewhere along the way. Around 2.30 am, however, the bus stopped and refused to budge. Even though some of us kept warning the driver and cleaner that we can smell diesel fumes, they ignored us and kept driving. It turned out that there was diesel leaking from some nozzle that got broken at the engine. Stranded, again, in the middle of nowhere. The patience of people in the bus was wearing very thin, not to mention extreme exhaustion at lack of sleep in the nights and much-running-around during the day. What does one do?
At around 3.45 am, five of us quickly collected some handbills, petitions, the handheld public address system, three banners and flagged down a bus from Mumbai to Goa. Luckily, there were five free seats. We however forgot to take any of our cameras or camerapersons!
Claude Alvares and Miguel Braganza waited for us patiently from 8.15 onwards at Mapusa. We got off at 9.45 am and quickly rushed to the OFAI office (we forgot to grab even a toothbrush each) and after a quick cup of tea, we participated in the most amazing protest outside the Syngenta factory in Santa Monica.
It was a protest by the local villagers of Dulapi against what appears to be illegal squatting by Syngenta on their land – apparently, there are title complications on the land even though Syngenta claims it as theirs. Further, there are other issues that the local people are facing from the factory.
It was a protest in pouring rain, under umbrellas. Not a single protestor was keen on hiding from the rain or going away until we have had our say. The police was deployed in large numbers. Speaker after speaker demanded that the company shut down its operations since there is absolutely no need for either its toxins or its seeds. About 120 farmers and citizens from Dulapi village under the banner of Dulapi Nagarik Kruti Samiti braved the rains to make their voice heard at the Syngenta gate in Corlim, supported wholeheartedly by the Kisan Swaraj Yatra members. We believe that the message went home through this symbolic protest.
We then went to ICAR-Goa Ela Farm complex, where Dr. N.P. Singh, Director of ICAR Research Centre for Goa, briefed the Yatris on the steps taken by ICAR to promote organic farming in Goa and to boost the crop yields in consultation with the small and marginal farmers. He lamented that the Directorate of Agriculture does not consult the ICAR on agricultural techniques while framing its policy and schemes. He also categorically stated that the KVK-North Goa, under the control of ICAR was not involved in the Bt Brinjal trials in Goa earlier this year. He agreed that the KVK does not have a research mandate, which is the sole responsibility of ICAR’s research stations and State Agriculture Universities [SAUs]. He stated that Goa needs a SAU.
He assured the delegation that had gone to meet him that he also strongly believes in organic agriculture, in a planned, phased manner, crop by crop.
There was a press meet at the Azad Maidan where several media representatives turned up.
In the evening, there was a public meeting. Though it was a sparse crowd who turned up, the interest was tangible. They stayed on after the interaction to have some more informal interactions with all of us.
By this time, one batch of the yatris (3 women and 7 men) got into a truck from where the bus was stranded in the early hours and headed down to Goa. Another couple of them took a bus that they were able to stop and get into. The last batch of people, who got the bus nozzle replaced set off after it was repaired, only to find two flat tyres again thirty kilometers from where we were all stranded in the night! This is it, we all said. We have no more time or patience for this bus. It was coming in the way of efficient work as per plans and we decided to replace this either by a convoy of four-wheelers or one more bus from Bangalore (which was going to be a difficult proposition, in terms of vehicles with national permit!). This last batch of people somehow located a tempo traveler from a nearby village, transferred as much luggage as needed from the bus and finally turned up in Goa at around 10.30 am.
The Yatris were all together again, tired, irritated and glad to be away from the bus. We felt good that we demonstrated that the Yatra will continue, come what may.