Panaji�:�The Congress has alleged that an air force base is surreptitiously being planned at a village in South Goa which is to host the Defence Expo in 2016, a project that has faced opposition from local politicians.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) base is being planned at the Naqueri, Quitol plateau, near Betul village, the party has alleged.
Quoting an excerpt from the Defence Expo India 2016 official website, Congress's Goa state unit secretary Durgadas Kamat alleged that while Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Goa's Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar had said six lakh sq. metres of land at Betul was only being temporarily allotted to host the Defence Expo, the official website stated to the contrary.
"Are the defence ministry and the Goa government colluding to grab more land in Goa? Why has the air force base issue never been made public until now when the land has already been allotted for the Expo?" Kamat said, talking to IANS.
"However, video/aerial photography over Indian aerospace or photography in the operational area of the Air Force Station Quitol, without permission of the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, shall not be permitted," says the official website of the Expo.
Traditionally held in the national capital, the Defence Expo is being shifted to Goa because a new convention centre is being built at the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.
The Defence Expo 2016 is the ninth in the series of biennial Land, Naval and Internal Homeland Security Systems Exhibition organised by the defence ministry.
The land hogging by the armed forces and central government agencies has been a prickly issue since 1961, when Goa was liberated from the Portuguese rule, thanks to India's clinical military action.
Critical installations and land tracts captured by the Indian army from the Portuguese forces during the action were then taken over by the defence ministry after the brief spell of military administration of the state.
Successive state governments have maintained that the Indian Navy has been illegally occupying 1,840 acres of land on which the Dabolim airport is located.
Parrikar, when he was Goa's chief minister in 2012, had during a debate in the state legislative assembly summed up the angst of the state administration vis a vis the tendency of the Indian armed forces to not relinquish land tracts.
"It is easier to get the army to vacate from Lahore, but not from even an inch of land in Panaji..." Parrikar had said then, while criticising the Indian Army for its failure to vacate a prime piece of land in the heart of the state capital despite being allotted an alternate land tract on the outskirts of Panaji.
Congress's Rajya Sabha member from Goa Shantaram Naik also opposed the Defence Expo's relocation to Betul.
"The BJP government in Goa has put Goa on sale. It is unfortunate that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is the official broker of the Goa government..." Naik told IANS on Friday.
Parrikar, however, has defended the relocation of the Defence Expo to Goa, claiming it would provide employment opportunities to locals. He assured that no land would be acquired for the project.
"There will be no land acquisition to host Defence Expo. It will be held in a temporary structure where the defence equipment will be displayed," Parrikar said on Friday, claiming that the opposition was misleading people on the issue.
Parsekar has also insisted that no land was being acquired by the defence ministry for the event and that it was only a temporary arrangement for now.
"As regards permanent destination (for Defence Expo) is concerned, we have not taken a decision yet. We will take it separately. We will first see how the Expo benefits Goa when it is held in March 2016," Parsekar said.(IANS)