Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Accidental Activist - So Do You Have it In You?

By Venita Coelho

It was a room full of accidental activists. They had come from across
Goa. From the hills to the coastlines , they were all there. And they
were there because they had seen for themselves the havoc that the
governments policy of dragging its feet on the Regional Plan was causing
in their villages. The reports were shocking. Villagers reported virgin
cashew plantations and forests being purchased for as little as Rs 1000
per sq metre, and being razed for settlement and mining activities.
Khazan lands were becoming a residential colony with marina attached.
Ilegal bore wells were devastating the supply of water in Nagao, Verna,
Loutolim, Quellossim and Cortalim. Every single person was there because
they were personally concerned that disaster awaited around the corner
if something was not done.

Being accidental activists, they were all nervous as well - ?What about
the police? Will they arrest us?? ?What if things get out of
control??Then the frustration spoke up ?We will protest! We are law
abiding citizens who have tried every avenue open to us. We?ve done the
RTI, the letters of protest, the umpteen follow up visits to government
offices ? and absolutely nothing has come of it.? The few veterans who
were there to provide advice smiled tiredly. ?Nothing comes of it.
Nothing comes until you go to court. And even then it takes forever.?
Young blood spoke up ?These are our government servants! They report to
us. They are meant to have our best interests at heart. We have every
right to go to their office and ask them what they are doing with our

The decision was made. The only thing that the government seems to
listen to is large numbers of very angry people. Here were a large
enough number. And they were very angry. The government had made high
sounding promises ? this was the Regional Plan that would protect Eco
Zones, that would take the villagers wishes into consideration, that
would project a development that would save and not destroy. And here we
were, more than a year later, with no signs of the Regional Plan being
finalized. In the meantime, devastation in the name of development was
rampant all over the state. All these accidental activists were willing
to put their anger on the line. Come March 4th they would gather and
protest at the Town and Country Planning Office in Panjim.

March 4th is just a few days away. Now is the time for you too to decide
if you have the makings of an accidental activist in you. Look around
you at your own village? Do you like what you see? Are you happy with
the concrete structures sprouting everywhere? With the garbage strewn
wherever you look? With the water shortages? With the trees being cut?
With the mining trucks that thunder through your village choking you
with dust? All this is the result of either lack of planning, or of the
subversion of all planning to big business interests. You can?t get
permission for the two rooms you want to add to your house, but the big
construction companies get permission for dozens of luxury villas slap
in the middle of eco sensitive zones. You get a notice from the
Panchayat when you cut a single tree, but the czars of the mining
industry level entire forests and get away with it. The Regional Plan
was meant to give you and your village a chance to plan your future the
way you wanted it to be. Not leave the planning to function at the
whims of the government and the money bags who control it. Until the
Regional Plan is finalized, the devastation of Goa by vested interests
will continue. You can see it in the village you live. The only way to
stop it is to use the language that this government understands ? a show
of strength and numbers. To protest so loud and so strong that they are
forced to give us the Regional Plan they promised. Not this endless delay.

On March 4th ordinary citizens who have been made accidental activists,
village action groups, and the GBA, are gathering at the TCP office in
Panjim at 3:30 to stage a peaceful protest. We will be demanding that
the Regional Plan be finalized immediately, and all interim permissions
for projects be frozen, and loopholes like Amendment 16 and 16A be
closed immediately. Join us. Raise your voice. Stake your claim on the
future of your own village.

Herald, 2 March 2010 Panaji

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