Open spaces in our Goan villages are fast becoming a rarity. What would this mean in terms of impact on both the individual and the community? Researchers have attempted to understand this impact by going beyond the traditional concept of ‘carrying capacity’ and measuring the degree to which the emotional, cognitive, and even the physiological needs are met by open spaces. The ‘psychological carrying capacity’ is something that needs to be seriously considered in the developing of Goa’s land spaces than merely the creation of physical infrastructure.
If we believe that our encounters with the natural world provide something of personal and societal value that are beyond just ecological and economic value, then there ought to be a holistic approach to our planning and conservation of spaces in Goa. Planning of open spaces cannot be left to the subjective imagination of government planners, bureaucrats, industrialists and the politicians. Another Vision document 2035 has been put out for public debate. As Mahatma Gandhi had always emphasised, will the last man in the village have a say?
At present, for individuals to defend the community right to natural spaces like the forest cover, water bodies, open plateaus across Goa is just not without a heavy toll, both monetarily as well as psychologically. Even legal assistance is hard to find. To work for the protection of natural open spaces is like an undeclared social sin in Goa? It gets categorised as being anti-development and anti-national. The most effective tool for emotional blackmail of the community that the Government and opportunistic forces fall back upon to justify their capture of open spaces is to moot the idea of employment generation and affordable housing. “Te bhatkar! Tankam balcaovant bosun pokxi polleunk zai. Tumkam pokxi polleunk zai kai pott bhorunk zai?” These were the remarks of an MLA at a public meeting after his plans for an IT Park met with stiff opposition from the locals. Politicians and land sharks are ready to pay the price and get assistance from the police to intimidate citizens. When a Government itself turns plunderer and some within the community succumb to greed and self-interest, what can one expect?
The assault arising from Government’s post 1990 development policies offer glaring evidence of this contempt for natural open spaces on the Porvorim plateau and hill slopes of adjoining Pilerne, Sangolda and Salvador do Mundo villages. The Gram Sabhas of the affected villages could never comprehend the impact of this devastation until as recently as 2011. Greed coupled with spiritual bankruptcy, of a few in these affected Communidades and Village Panchayats, prevented the conservation and preservation of the sacredness that several natural spaces had enjoyed. The forests with its shrubbery and the undergrowth with cool breeze along the hill slopes offered immense relaxation equivalent to what one would get at a beach side. The variety of flaura and fauna and the seasonal fruits on the hill slopes would attract several people from the neighbouring towns. The flowing springs and lakes at the foot hills coupled with areca nut plantations offered ideal picnic spots for the residents of these villages and those surrounding. The forests and springs and the view of the green valleys below provided that invaluable psychological and emotional comfort. This natural wealth has all been lost to the minds and hearts of planners infected by the metro virus which not only helped fattened themselves but also fed the greed of local politicians.
A price tag cannot be put to the losses arising from the destruction of such precious natural open spaces. But there is definitely a physical, mental and emotional loss that is gradually taking its toll on the residents of these villages. The rising pollution levels, scarcity of once abundantly available water and the absence of rejuvenating natural spaces that helped citizens break away from the stresses of daily life is causing restlessness. Artificially created and regulated recreation parks and entertainment zones cannot substitute for this natural open space. No matter what the experts on the Regional Plan 2021 may project, conservation of natural open spaces that already exist in villages of Goa have not received the scientific attention they deserve. The Eco-zones and No Development Zone guidelines in the RP-2021 which are being hailed as progressive, have already proved to be a fraud. Private forests with over 25 percent gradient are being developed much to the surprise of the residents around. The talk doing the rounds is that models for construction on steep hill slopes are being marketed by none other than, some of those who are known to have had a say in the making of RP-2021.
With the Goa Tourism Development Corporation ( GTDC) now eyeing every little spot for encouraging tourism and with the present Government’s plans for more industrialisation, the peace and tranquility that a few natural spaces in the hinterland still had to offer, is all set to disappear. Goa’s few existing natural spaces, are going to be devastated with the Government’s target to attract around 6 million tourists from the present 2.6 million that visit the State. The Goa Vision 2035 indirectly endorses this story of loot and plunder that every Gram Sabha tried to resist but repeatedly got dubbed as anarchy. The legal opinion forwarded to the Government by a prominent lawyer on behalf of his real estate clients rubbishing the legality of Gram Sabha decisions in Goa has hopefully got a response from the latest Supreme Court verdict. Will Goans ever be able to go to those hills when their hearts are lonely?; will they ever hear what they have heard before?; will their hearts ever be blessed with that sound of music that those natural open spaces had to offer?
Goa being located in such an ecologically fragile and sensitive zone, its people cannot have the best of both the worlds which the Goa Vision 2035 document desperately attempts to amalgamate. Unfortunately for Goans, the choice is either God or Mammon. It cannot be both.