Let ‘autonomy’ flow in Konkani Academy; not ‘autocracy’

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
21 October 2017 13:28 IST

It started with one book – Sudirsukt. Ended with 16 books and 16 more personalities and organisations. Official Language Minister Manohar Parrikar (also the Chief Minister) announced the whole process of Goa Konkani Academy’s Literary Awards for 2015 and 2016 null and void. Reason? The selection process was found to be faulty, mainly due to conflict of interest.

The issue needs a public debate. Because it has happened for the first time in Goa’s history. It’s a precedent which the government has set for an autonomous institution. And it could be extended to all other autonomous institutions as well as all kind of state awards the Government gives. Declare the learned judges null and void and impose a decision of political convenience on an autonomous body.

To analyse this, we need to first understand what the actual process of selecting the awards is. And how and why the whole controversy got generated.

Well, it began with one award – Vishnu Wagh’s poetry collection Sudirsukt. Sanjeev Verenkar, one of the three judges, objected to the literary quality of the book and also confirmed to the media, when asked, that he has objected because of abusive language and casteist content. The other two judges didn’t agree with him. The result with Verenkar’s objection was sealed, like all other results. Verenkar is praised by some people for his bold stand while some have objected to the setting up a wrong precedent of leaking out the result.

This turned out to be a big controversy on social media and even symposiums and public recitals of Sudirsukt poetry were organised. Also articles appeared in the newspapers. Some people also made representations to the Official Language Minister (the CM), who directed Directorate of Official Language to examine the matter and submit a report. The flaws in the selection process are apparently pointed out in this report, based on which Mr Parrikar has decided to declare the whole process null and void. Even before opening the sealed envelopes of the results.

The awards this time were for two years – 2015 and 2016, as Goa Konkani Academy was unable to declare 2015 awards due to lack of funds, though books were selected by creating a Ground List as well as the Short List.  The Chairman, Vice Chairman and also quite a few general council members resigned in protest of not providing funds in time. Since then, the Director of Official Language Dr Prakash Vazrikar is the Acting Chairman of GKA. He carried forward the process once funds were made available. But the report finds the process of selecting the books faulty. The awards contain literary awards for books in 8 categories and 8 awards for individuals and institutions for their contribution in the field of literature, language, music, theatre, folk and organisation.

What is the process of selecting the books for the literary awards? A Ground List is prepared by classifying the books for 8 categories, based on the terms and conditions like the year of publication, pages, the awards it has received in the past etc. This Ground List is prepared by a reader who is constant in study (साक्षेपी वाचक) or a knowledgeable person. Apparently, this time this Ground List was prepared by two post-graduate Konkani students. In addition, GKA also invites applications and recommendations from a common citizen, even if he/she has no knowledge of Konkani literature. Everything is included in the Ground List. In short, it is purely a technical job without considering the merit.

The merit applies at the second level – a Selection Committee which prepares a Short List. This comprises of GKA Chairman, Vice Chairman and a third member. In this case, the third member was a GKA employee, who is also a well-known researcher and a writer. Though not said in the rules, this committee also decides who the judges would be, by preparing a list of four persons for a three-member panel. Apparently, this employee member’s book was also in the competition. And this the conflict of interest the CM has rightly pointed out in the selection process.

But there is a third and highest level of selecting the books with addition or deletion from the list. And the CM has completely overlooked this highest level. The panel of three judges. The rule book states clearly that judges have a right to add more books to the list. Based on common understanding between the three, they can also set aside some books, in their own wisdom. And their decision is final.

There is criticism that Sudirsukt was kept aside by the selection committee and was included later. Every book is considered for the award for the three consecutive years. Apparently, Sudirsukt was shortlisted in 2014, but was still was kept aside for 2015 and 2016. If true, then it’s not justified. And even if the selection committee had not shortlisted it, the judges could very well include it for an award.

But there is a proviso. The Executive Council of the GKA has a right to change the result, if found necessary. Thus, the results are finalised and declared only after the EC approves it and the awardee’s consent is sought. And perhaps there is no provision that the Official Language Minister or the Government can take a decision in the absence of the Executive Council. In this case, today, the Executive Council doesn’t exist.

Goa Konkani Academy, though constituted by the Government, is an autonomous body. It’s funded by the government, monitored by the Government through the government-appointed Secretary for administrative purpose but run by the Executive Council and the General Council, largely consisting of writers, artists, activists and heads of institutions working in the field of Konkani. The decisions regarding its activities (including the awards) are taken by the Councils; not by the Government.

Thus, in this case, looks like the major flaw is on the part of the government; not the Goa Konkani Academy.

Firstly, in the absence of the councils of the learned people in the field of Konkani, the Official Language Minister could have kept two disputed results into abeyance – the poetry category due to Sudirsukt and the second category, where the conflict of interest is found due to the selection committee member whose book is considered for the award. Why punish 30 other awardees due to these two? And what right the Minister has to challenge the competency of over 25 learned judges, who have selected books and personalities purely on merit without any flaw in the selection process?

Secondly, the process of awards is not completed unless it is vetted by the Executive Council. Thus, it’s a prime responsibility of the Official Language Minister to constitute the democratic councils and leave the process in their hands. That’s the real democratic spirit, based on which autonomous institutions funded by the Government function.  If not, sadly, it sounds AUTOCRATIC.

At the same time, the step taken by Official Language Minister Manohar Parrikar to centralise the State Awards should be welcomed wholeheartedly. There is too much duplication of awards in the field of literature and art. But that’s the step next. These awards need not be mixed up with this decision of centralisation. Because the process of ‘awards of the past’ had almost reached the last stage.

Therefore, the best option would be to set aside government’s autocratic decision and leave it to the autonomous body by reconstituting the councils of learned people in the field and also appoint the Chairman and the Vice Chairman. When Mr Parrikar is so much concerned about the faulty procedures, he should not follow the one and be a ‘defaulter’.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of Prudent & Goa365, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities. After retirement from day-to-day journalism in 2020, he is into Re-Search Journalism (पुनर्सोद पत्रकारिता), focusing on analytical articles, Video programs & Books.

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