A federal minister in India has come under fire for indirectly accusing Catholics and environmentalists in Goa for blocking development in the former Portuguese colony which they say harms the environment and local culture.
Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister, Nitin Gadkari, last week said that “a microscopic minority” has been blocking major projects worth more than US$150 million in the name of protecting the environment.
The projects include plans to widen main roads, expand ports and to develop water transport via the state’s two major rivers — Mandovi and Zurari.
“There is opposition among a few groups,” the minister told an annual meeting of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Church groups have been vocal in opposing several mining and industrial projects in this tiny coastal state, where the pro-Hindu BJP party heads the government.
Christians constitute some 25 percent of the 1.8 million people in the state, and are considered politically influential in some areas.
Pro-Hindu groups often portray Catholics as supporters of Portuguese, Western culture and anti-Indian opposing “national projects.”
Father Eremito Rebello, parish priest of the Our Lady of Snows Church in Raia, branded Gadkari’s remark sectarian in nature and “in keeping with the BJP policy of hitting out at religious minorities.”
Catholics also head several NGOs campaigning against profit-oriented projects, which they say adversely affect the state’s fragile eco-system.