Quepem: “Hey Altone,” someone screamed from afar as we passed by a tiny gravel lane in a village in the Quepem constituency. It’s Ganesh Chaturthi time, and every household celebrates this festival with enthusiasm and religious fervor, just as they did in years past.
The call was for Altone D’Costa, Quepem MLA, a first-time legislator who managed to turn around the entire political landscape in this challenging terrain within two years before the 2022 election.
The businessman-turned-politician is greeted by his first name, “Altone,” a practice unfamiliar in the current world. From children to the elderly, everyone greets this MLA who has been working with them for years, providing financial and administrative assistance.
PAY FOR YOUR OWN WATER
“People here are facing a unique problem. The government has channeled water from the village through pipelines and fitted meters to every household. This means they have to pay to use their own water, and the water is untreated,” explains Altone as we pass through clusters of houses nestled in the hilly terrain, inaccessible by vehicles, not even a two-wheeler.
Altone had raised this issue on the floor of the House, making the government aware of the problem created by the system. The MLA claims that some families were billed as much as Rs 40,000. These people, who earn their living through farming, find this amount “impossible to pay.”
WHERE HAS THE TRIBAL FUND GONE?
The government has a special provision for earmarking a budget for tribal welfare, and Quepem has one of the largest tribal populations. That’s why, when considering the reservation of Assembly constituencies for Scheduled Tribes, Quepem is on the unofficial list.
Tribals in this village lead a self-sustained life. They grow fruits and vegetables here, which they sell by the roadside. Altone claims that they sell these items in precarious conditions.
“Some day, some vehicle may just lose control and crush them. There is always a danger of losing lives,” he said.
Altone has recently met the state chief minister, Pramod Sawant, with a demand to set up a special market for the tribals. “There is a market for tribals, but it is in North Goa, situated at Banastarim. How can a farmer from Quepem travel all the way to Banastarim to sell his product?” he questions.
The MLA has given two options for the government: either set up a tribal market or ask the Horticulture Corporation to buy their products at a market price.
THAT EVENING OF 2019
Goa’s political scene is always marked by a series of defections. Back in 2019, we witnessed 10 Congress MLAs en masse joining BJP to stabilize the Pramod Sawant-led government. Several changes were seen in the political landscape during that time. Congress was in disarray. But this incident proved to be a “political tonic” for Altone.
Chandrakant alias Babu Kavlekar led the rebellion. The then Quepem MLA was the Leader of the Opposition who joined BJP, making political space for Altone.
When asked about the defections of 2019, Altone candidly admits that it worked in his favor but is quick to add that he would never encourage defections.
G8 MERGER INTO BJP
Altone is among the three Congress MLAs who remained in the party after a group of 8 MLAs shifted to the BJP. The Quepem MLA claims that he was also offered a chance to join the BJP, which he refused. The lead-up to the G8 merger was marked by attempts to keep the flock together. In the process, Altone was part of the group that traveled across India together. The biggest shock, he says, was that “Sankalp Amonkar joined BJP.”
(WATCH THE DETAILED EPISODE OF HUB ENCOUNTER AS WE TRAVEL WITH ALTONE DCOSTA INTO THE LANES AND BYLANES OF THE TRIBAL HAMLET. FOLLOW US ON YOUTUBE TO SEE THE PROMOS AND DETAILED EPISODE)