Wednesday, January 19, 2017

Development needs selfless vision

By | 28 Dec, 2016, 06:09AM IST

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At the panel discussion held in memory of Mathany Saldanha, the topic was “has Goa reached its carrying capacity”? One thing was clear, carrying capacity and its relation to what constitutes development means different things to different people. The beauty of it is that no one is wrong, all have a point, how to capture people’s aspirations so that the Government of the day can take decisions that are people centric and good for Goa?
The current model is surely inadequate. Take industry for example. New projects with absolutely no application of mind to either economic feasibility or environmental sustainability. The Government’s response to people’s cries to save Goa and its environment was to bulldoze by setting up a super legislation which over shadowed very other legislation, with absolutely no checks and balances. The Industrial Promotion Board became the island of refuge for every and any project that could not get cleared under various laws designed to protect Goa and its environment.
Hotels were added to the definition of industry but not a single hotelier was on the IPB drafting committee, strange. Maximum projects are for hotels and that too in previously defined eco-sensitive zones. When deciding that these projects had to be passed, did the IPB consider the economic feasibility of unleashing so many hotels at one time, did the government consult the Hotels association and get feedback that there is a huge shortage of rooms and there is a demand for more rooms in different categories or areas. Based on this did the IPB map the projects to the locations mentioned and then allowed the same.
If this was done there is no report of the same. What is stated in the reports is that at an IPB meeting multiple projects are passed. Were the project vetted by experts prior to meeting, what we do know is the process of appointing an in house consulting firm is still in the pipeline. Who is supposed to verify the projected data of jobs created and investment with the actual jobs created and investment made. The jobs have to be created so that locals benefit, but a quick sample of any of the top hotels already in operation point to the fact that locals as employees account for a small percentage. What locals do get is the space outside to allow their taxis to park, no wonder there is such a hue and cry about allowing Uber or Ola into the taxi market because for Goans the only business that does come directly to locals is the transportation.
When existing business are shouting hoarse about inadequate power and water, how has the IPB addressed these issues. Just giving permission will not enhance the power and water supply. So what is the long term solution thought out by the pundits at IPB? Or as the CM said the permission does not imply it is a single window. Now having got the permission, the investors have to make their own arrangements and get the power water and permissions from the respective departments to convert the land and start the project. The fact that the IPB has cleared it should be an indicator to the concerned department heads on how the Government is thinking and they should start thinking the same way and not raise any objections. Unfortunately, this short term thinking will now stress the carrying capacity of the courts with a string of PIL’s being filed and the investors will get stuck. The problem is that the damage has been done, and Goa will lose what makes it essentially the reason for tourists coming to Goa. Spain is good example, because of the tourist boon they allowed concrete to replace natural beauty and today tourists are staying away because there is only concrete and no beauty.
If we take manufacturing industry which the Government is working hard to promote, by adding industrial estates and reducing the open space in existing estates from 15% to 10%. The new plots so created are then allotted in a transparent manner. The problem is the fact that land in Goa is scarce, so how does one stop hoarding or misuse of land, that is taking the land for a manufacturing project and then stating that due to economic downturn the project cannot be implemented so the land remains unproductive. On the other hand the promoters use the land meant for manufacturing for setting up head offices or godowns as the rates are subsidised when compared to those outside the estate. The last category is that every Estate has number of units closed for years with no taxes paid or jobs generated and therefore no benefit to Goa.
The Government in its push for trying to bring more manufacturers to Goa, has notified new rules which makes it easier and cheaper for a unit looking to start manufacturing in Goa. This is good and proactive. If the plot is given to a unit and a subsidised rate to start manufacturing which in turn will create jobs, contribute taxes etc then why once this activity ceases is the plot not taken back and given to another. Why is industry being allowed to do GIDC’s job. Should the Government not look at this locked industrial land rather than acquire more land to start new estates? Carrying capacity!!!
Unless we look at the issues raised holistically we will continue to miss the wood for the trees. We must look at what gives Goa maximum benefit and not what gives a department or person benefit.

(The author prefers to write rather than chat in a balcao)