Panaji: Beautifully poignant coconuts trees swaying gently in the evening breeze aren't a rare sight in Goa as you drive along the coastal state. Only, according to a decision taken by the Goa government last week, the coconut tree is not a tree any more.
The decision has evoked a fresh bout of criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in Goa.
While the opposition and activists have alleged that the cabinet decision would encourage cutting down of large plantations of coconut palms to make way for real estate development, the government claims the coconut was wrongly defined as a tree by earlier governments in the first place.
"On the one hand, the BJP wants to protect the cow saying it is a holy animal, but is giving a free licence to cut coconut trees, which is also holy and called a 'kalpvriksha' in Goa. By saying the coconut is not a tree, the government is making way for easy slaughter of coconut palms for real estate development," independent legislator from Fatorda, Vijai Sardesai, told IANS.
The coconut tree in tropical Goa is often referred to as the kalpvriksha, a mythical wish-fulfilling tree which finds reference in Vedic scriptures, due to its immense utility value.
Its fruit, plucked tender, is a refreshing drink, once ripe, its white pulp is a common ingredient in Goan curry. The shell is used for handicraft, the fronds once woven are still used as roof thatch and as rain shelter.
Fresh sap tapped from the tree is a popular drink called toddy, which, once fermented, is used to cook sanna (local sweet idlis) and once distilled, transforms into a potent alcoholic brew called coconut feni.
The main stock of the tree once cut and cured is used in roof beams in traditional Goan homes.
But according to the cabinet decision taken by the government last week, the coconut tree is no tree at all.
According to Forest Minister Rajendra Arlekar, the coconut tree does not even qualify as a tree botanically.
"It was included in error as a tree by the (Congress-led coalition government) in 2008. We are correcting the anomaly," Arlekar said. In this connection, he referred to the Goa Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees act 1984.
According to Sardesai, the decision comes in the wake of permission given to an alcohol distillery company to set up a distillery unit in a plot with several hundred coconut trees in south Goa's Sanguem sub-district.
"The cabinet decision is linked to this development. The promotion industry at the cost of environment will be disastrous to Goa," Sardesai said.
With the coconut tree no longer classified as a tree, the legislator said that cutting a tree would no longer require government permissions, as was the case earlier.
According to records available with the agriculture department, over 25,000 hectares of land in the state was covered by coconut plantations, which yield nearly 1.3 million nuts every year.
The Congress in Goa has also accused the Goa government of trying to denude Goa of both its culture as well as environment.
The decision of the BJP-led government of removing the coconut tree from the purview of 'tree' under the said act will make the tree vulnerable and could result in a demographic cathostrope for Goa and could also have a far reaching detrimental effects to Goa's unique identity, said Congress spokesperson Yatish Naik.