As Goa’s Investment Promotion Board prepared for a crucial meeting on Tuesday to discuss a range of multi-crore projects, the Congress demanded that the government must provide “visual proof” of Manohar Parrikar attending the meeting. The projects are required by law to be approved by the chief minister as well as the Cabinet, which is likely to meet for the purpose on October 31. The Opposition party also demanded “forensic verification” of Parrikar’s signatures “in all his acts” as chief minister since March 2018.
Ill health has kept Parrikar away from office for much of the time since he took charge in early 2017. In particular since March 5, when he left for the United States to be treated for pancreatic cancer, the chief minister has barely attended work.
“We believe that meetings are convened by officers on special duty who are herding Cabinet ministers and taking decisions that are patently illegal,” said the Congress spokesperson Jeetendra Deshprabhu, explaining their demand.
The party’s state chief Girish Chodankar has even alleged that some bureaucrats are keeping the chief minister under house arrest.
Senior officials have told Scroll.in that bureaucrats in the Chief Minister’s Office have been transferring Parrikar’s oral instructions into “orders of approval”, maintaining a log of them, since March 2018.
The Congress said it had asked for a meeting with the chief minister, in person or through video conferencing, last week, but were turned down. “Will you tell us if he is there?” Deshprabhu asked the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the coalition government. “We doubt if he is present.”
‘Is he taking decisions or not?’
On Saturday, after months of secrecy, Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane admitted that Parrikar was suffering from pancreatic cancer. In a statement, he also said the chief minister should now be allowed space to recover and spend time with his family.
Reacting to Rane’s admission, Deshprabhu accused the government of “fooling the people from March 2018 onwards” by refusing to provide regular bulletins about the chief minister’s condition and the nature of his illness. “In the case of Tamil Nadu, there were regular health updates,” he said, referring to the prolonged illness of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. “The people of Goa should know what the chief minister’s condition is. Is Manohar Parrikar taking cabinet decisions himself or not? That is what we want to know. If it is said he has presided over a meeting, then it should be proven the chief minister can walk, talk and take decisions. A video should be shown to all of Goa.”
Deshprabhu also questioned the legality of the Cabinet meeting proposed to be held at the chief minister’s personal residence on October 31. He said the Opposition party is preparing to file a petition regarding the operation of the Chief Minister’s Office since March 2018.
The Investment Promotion Board’s last meeting on October 17 had kicked up a storm. The government claimed the meeting was chaired by Parrikar via video conferencing, but the media and the Congress questioned the veracity of the claim. The board’s officials refused to answer questions from Scroll.in about the October 17 meeting, including if the minutes of the meeting were signed.
Chief Secretary Dharmendra Sharma also declined to comment when asked about the prevailing situation.
Parrikar was released from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, and brought to Goa by air ambulance on October 14. He has been confined to his home since. The three parties in the ruling coalition have held meetings to choose a replacement for the chief minister but have failed to reach a decision. So, for now, they have taken the position that Parrikar will stay on.
“Their big problem, since they cannot agree on a leader, is who will sign the files,” said a coalition official who asked not to be named. “If one is named, four others are ready to leave.”