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Goa Plan: People's Protests

People

GOA PLAN

People’s Protests

L
arge gatherings in Goa are usually associated with its famed yearly carnival or foreign and domestic tourists flocking to its beaches. The gathering of nearly 10,000 people on December 18 in Panaji, however, was motivated by anger and called by the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) to publicly denounce the Goa Regional Plan 2011. While citizen representatives, well known professionals, religious leaders and activists occupied the dais, politicians, including former chief ministers, had to sit among the audience. It was very clear that this was a people-driven protest. January 15, 2007 is the deadline given to the Pratapsinh Rane government to withdraw the plan.

In November 1988, the Regional Plan for Goa, 2001 was made public, taken to all gram sabha meetings and given wide publicity. It was influenced by the report of the task force on eco-development of Goa set up by the central Planning Commission under M S Swaminathan in 1981-82. It had a 15-year perspective but there is no record of any assessment of its outcome. Then in 1997-98, the government hired a private firm, Consulting Engineering Services (CES), New Delhi, to draft the new regional plan. CES submitted its final draft report in September 2003. It was released to the public for comments in November 2005 and notified in August 2006. Promptly, the Goa Heritage Action Group filed a public interest litigation challenging the plan and the petition is before the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court, which has imposed a temporary stay.

Opponents of the Goa Regional Plan 2011 (which will cover nearly 80 per cent of the total 3,700 sq kilometres) have a long list of complaints. Unlike the earlier plan, this one was not taken to the people for discussion and the over 1,000 objections and suggestions made by citizens were not discussed extensively before it was officially notified. It shows residential and industrial developments, and establishment of six new urban centres on forested lands and orchards where no construction is to take place. Mangroves and parts of the coastline that will be affected include those in the Zuari, off the Cortalim riverbank; north Goa coastline in Calangute and Candolim; south Goa coastline from Utorda to Cavelossim; Siridao coast on the Bambolim plateau; and Calapur coast near Panaji.

Goa’s minister for town and country planning, Atanasio Monserrate, alias Babush, is generally considered the villain of the piece. He has claimed that despite copious official correspondence with the different departments, none of them bothered to respond before the plan was finalised. And while former chief minister Parrikar has been quick to say that his party, the BJP, if voted to power will revise the entire plan, the denudation of Goa’s natural resources is hardly a recent occurrence.

In fact, many want to know why prominent Goans, including Remo Fernandes, Wendell Roderics, Hema Sardessai and others, now so vocal in their opposition to the plan did not spearhead a public campaign much earlier. To Goans, accustomed to the breathtaking beauty of their surroundings, rapid urbanisation has not been welcome. The Goan press has been full of news stories of coastal regulation zone violations by hotels. An increasing number of foreigners buying up old houses and land, the state’s rapid progress towards becoming India’s “casino capital” and large-scale in-migration while local youth look abroad for employment have not all been good news. The tension between Goans and “outsiders”, who are perceived as not fitting in with the state’s liberal sociocultural ethos, has been palpable for some time now. That the new regional plan is just another opportunity for Mumbai and Delhi-based builders to make money by developing real estate for non-Goans to the detriment of the state’s real welfare, is what all those opposed to the plan firmly believe.

A number of local organisations have joined in the fight against the plan, led by the likes of the Panaji Citizens Action Committee, the Goa Heritage Action Group, and People’s Movement for Civic Action and the GBA. The Catholic church too has been a vocal supporter. Non-Goans, half censoriously and halfaffectionately, keep harping on ‘sushagaat’ to describe Goans

– the Konkani word roughly translated to mean “laid back and happy-go-lucky”. Going by the protests against the plan, Goans seem to be abandoning that attitude. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly December 23, 2006

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