Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Live me in the open sky

Report by Sayantoni Datta of a seminar “Regional Plan 2021, Imagining Goa’s Future’ at India International Centre(IIC), New Delhi on 18th September 2010, and organized by Goenkarancho Ekvot.

‘Live me in the open sky’ written by Late Dr. Manohar Rai Sardesai captures the essence of what the people of Goa have tried to articulate in their participatory planning process for the Regional Plan 2021. Yet again Goan people have lived up to the reputation of being one of the forerunners informing ecological and environment discourses in the country. But while the Draft Regiosnal Plan 2021 does incorporate within it, flavours of the voices of people in Goa, the question is whether this process will continue in full authenticity, its implementation; and whether the plan will be adopted without changes by the Government of Goa.

Inspired by the Kerala model of development planning initiated by KSSP in Kerala, the Draft Regional Plan 2021 claims to be the outcome of a bottom up process of town planning whereby every single village and ward was engaged in a spatial planning exercise, which was in keeping with the principles of the 73rd and 74th Amendments in the Constitution. The planning exercise facilitated by a special Taskforce which include the Chief Minister of Goa, Former Chief Town Planner, Edgar Ribeiro, Architect Dean D’ Cruz, Dr. Oscar Rebello, Shri Blaise Costa Bir among others, has made an interesting departure from most planning exercises in the rest of the country. This is probably the first time the country has seen a state level village wise mapping and planning exercise of such detail; where urban and rural planning have incorporated within its logic and exercise securing of its fragile eco systems of ‘forests, mangroves, paddy fields and beaches which make Goa what it is’; where new ideas and economic models have been offered to investors in a state where land is a scarce resource.

Democratising Planning

The process adopted by the RGP 2021 in Goa has stemmed out of a large number of protests by the Goan people, at the forefront of which has been the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, who have insisted that the previous plan of Goa, RGP-2001, developed in consensus with only a handful of land sharks and the state, must be rejected and reformulated with every Goan citizen’s voice and stake included in it. The RGP-2021 is a fall out of these protests to democratize development planning in the State.

Given the larger issues of land grab, granting land for SEZs and development projects in India today, planning with people, and making these plans available to people, safeguards from the otherwise opaque processes that states have adopted with regard to planning in the rest of the country. Anyone who has attempted to understand how ‘development projects’ unfold in the state would have in their bag, a number of tales and horror stories of how difficult it is to access plan documents and files from the town planning authorities. The preparation of these ‘secret documents’ have invariably been outsourced to private consultant architect companies who draw up plans for the State, probably including several villages into blotches of suggested hubs, riverfronts, parks and industrial estates, without any discussions of its repercussions with local people living there and what it is that they want in terms of their stakes in the development process. Interestingly the RGP 2021 seems to have followed several detailed processes of correcting these blotches in the previous plan, such as redrawing the boundaries of settlements, locating all water bodies and even bird nesting sites and nature trails, which help animals to cross from one forest to another in village maps. Multiple sources such as topographical sheets, google maps, and the previous 2001 plan have been used in this exercise. As pointed out by Madhav Gadgil in a seminar on the presentation of the plan by some members of the Taskforce in New Delhi, ‘it would be useful to make all the village, district and regional maps available on free open source technology which can be made accessible to all people of Goa at a minimum expense’; this would also to retain transparency.

What is left for investors?

At the seminar “Regional Plan 2021, Imagining Goa’s Future’ at India International Centre(IIC) on 18th September 2010, and organized by Goenkarancho Ekvot, the hall was packed by citizen’s groups belonging to Goa Diaspora, environmental activists, and a large number of planners, and students from the School of Planning and Architecture. In admission one of the senior planning officials stated that probably the biggest conflict in planning today is making a shift from market based planning to plan by the people. Spatial planning must become an exercise which thus shifts merely from the various strategies of using and expropriating land for large development projects to also bring in its purview ecological and environmental issues.

The outcome of the research done for the Plan has clearly showed that land is a scarce resource, and with the current booming population in Goa, the per capita availability of land has only shrunk. There is also a harsh reality that land acquired by corporations has been left vacant or not used. Being a ‘leisure capital’ there are no dearth of individuals who have invested resorts, farmhouses and villas in Goa and Goa has also been witness to ‘speculative housing’ which is criminal, given the housing crunch for migrants and poor. Given the fact that almost 54 percent of land in Goa is of the eco sensitive type, probably a huge challenge for the Task Force has been to offer viable investment opportunities, in the midst of serious issues and impacts on the people of Goa of mining, real estate economy and tourism, all of which have played ruthless extractive roles.

To counter the antithesis of the plan, namely mining, real estate development and commercial tourism by five star hotels and resorts, an urgent request by the Taskforce to investors investing in Goa have been to think outside the paradigms. Can Goa be treated as a model of a sustainable society? Some of these models could mean adopting the concept of ‘slow cities’ for a city like Panjim, replicating projects such as ‘The Eden Project’ for mining wastelands, and adopting ‘village tourism models’ as in Hadi village, South Maharashtra which have helped the local people in benefiting from the tourism industry and also retained the original landscapes and bring a balance in the ‘green’ and ‘grey’ infrastructure. Along with this are some important NO’s which include no construction activity along hill slopes which should be declared as no development zones, no new mines should be leased in forest areas, no coal based transportation for power, usage of raw water by industries instead of treated water, and protection of sand dunes.

Translating the rhetoric to reality

Oscar Rebello, from the taskforce states that three kinds of forces have their interests interlocked in Goa’s plan, the ‘extreme environmentalists’ who don’t want a single tree to be cut, ‘the cowboy capitalists’ the actual strangulating class which is dominating the discourse in Goa, wanting to cut every tree or hill in sight and ‘the reasonable realists’ on whose shoulders rests the concern for the environment with practical concerns on livelihoods of lower and upper middle class and interests of the poor.

Matanhy Saldanha, Ex Member of the Goa Legislative Assembly talking about Goa’s survival interests states that the stability of any society depends upon its land. If land is gone everything is gone and development must be eco friendly, people oriented and sustainable for all improving the quality of life. Goan people, are not being able to afford a patch of land or house for themselves given the escalation of land markets. In the current situation land is being transacted among big hotel chains, those who invest from outside the state, those who are buying holiday homes and villas in the leisure capital, and NRIs with more foreign exchange.

It would be interesting to see how dynamic processes including people’s lives and choices, of the market and governance unfold against the static maps created for the plan and whether the democratic processes will continue and how attempts at subversion will be safeguarded against. Furthermore in the maze of the mapping exercise, a point to watch is how far local village interests are collated into regional maps and what kind of development decisions are made on regional maps. Already some development plans have been inserted such as airports, a sea link, a second Konkan railway line and industrial hubs to contain industrial sprawl in nodes, though these are being refuted by concerned villages.

Furthermore the Plan is also interlocked between governance interests. Will this Draft Regional Plan 2021 be passed by the Government of Goa? How far will the State be able to negotiate its interests with the Centre? Rebello from the Taskforce pushing urgently for the plan to be passed states that it is crucial to restrict the indiscriminate construction and mining activity and escalating land markets in Goa, that the plan be adopted soon. ‘Rahul Gandhi must view Goa as urgently as Niyamgiri, and the Goans with as much endearment as the Dongria Kondhs.’, he added.

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