ALEXANDRE MONIZ BARBOSA
Search as much as you may, the answer to the question of whether Goa is on the road to development is difficult to find. In a State where the political parties have but one mantra and people have but one aspiration – development – there very suddenly appears that is currently no blueprint for it.
Last month the Town and Country Planning Minister, Vishwajit Rane announced a review all 1600-odd approvals – final as well as provisional – granted for zone change under Section 16B of the Town and Country Planning Act by setting up a committee. In another decision, he suspended all Outline Development Plans (ODPs) – both notified and draft plans – and decided to redraft it within 60 days. The reasoning given by Rane, is that this is a ‘Goa centric decision to ensure proper scrutiny is undertaken on the touchstone of procedures and law governing the domain of planning area to the core’. There can be argument with that, but past history of Goa’s planning initiatives shows just how uncertain the process is.
The long saga of the Regional Plan is what first comes to mind. And interestingly, it is this Regional Plan 2021 that in March 2018, almost six years after it was put on hold, was revived with certain conditions is now, what will determine Goa’s development. The condition when reviving the plan was that construction activity would be allowed on a case-to-case basis, on lands notified as settlement, commercial, institutional and industrial zones. The very fact that each application will be taken up separately indicates that though this plan is now in use, the confidence that it is the best does not exist. Additionally, we cannot overlook the fact that all applications for projects in the coastal areas are on hold until such time that the State’s Coastal Zone Management Plan is finalised.
This has all the characteristics of an impasse in planning, leading to the question of how does one circumvent this situation?
Very clearly, there are some lacunae in planning that is getting exposed repeatedly in the State. The myriad little protests across the States by villagers opposing some development projects in their neighbourhoods indicates that in these cases the people were not taken into confidence before the project was taken up which exposed the lack of proper planning. The opposition to the double tracking of the South Western Railway line is one example of how a project is being taken forward when people are still fighting it. The uncompleted segment of the Western Bypass in Salcete that the people are demanding be taken on stilts is another instance. The opposition to the link road to the under-construction Mopa airport in Pernem is yet another such illustration. Couldn’t these have been avoided with some proper dialogue between the people and the government authorities?
In reality every land needs planning for the future that once finalised does not change quickly but remains for a certain period. Simultaneously, plans, laws, rules cannot remain stagnant. They have to evolve with time and remain dynamic. But, plans once formulated should be given a period to prove their efficacy. Withdrawing them very suddenly may not be the best option.
But, is it enough to have plans? Shouldn’t what is put on paper also reflect on the ground? In the era of technology, planning should be a much easier process. Surveys can be done with technology and satellite imagery that can be then corroborated through ground-truth inspections. This could do away with so much of the ambiguity that one finds in planning today, but only if it is done accurately without deviations. It is when there is a discrepancy between the two – the satellite image and the ground reality – that most of the controversies erupt.
There does remain, however, the undeniable fact that Goa is the cynosure of all eyes because of its natural attractions and if these are blatantly interfered with, there is nothing that will draw tourists to Goa, other than the cheap alcohol. All planning must take into account this, to retain the natural beauty that still exists and develop alongside it, conserving the surrounding environment and not degrading it and the floating population comprising tourists that are projected to increase in number every year. Whether it is the urban or the rural areas, whether it is the outline development plans or the regional plan, protecting the exiting environment should be non-negotiable. Here the coastal zone management plan will play an important role as besides the land on the coast, development along the rivers also requires to be restricted. Inland from this are the forest areas that have an ecological system of their own that has to be protected. Planning in Goa will never be easy and finding the best possible plan will be more than cumbersome.
The answer is not always in the final plan, but in the committee that is constituted to make the plan. It is they who determine what direction the State takes and consultation with the people is important. The challenges in planning are many, which therefore make it important that professionals and experts in the fields be on the committees drafting them. By its very nature, planning is a forward-looking exercise. It has to visualise and take into account changes that can occur and adapt around these. All the plans – Regional Plan, Outline Development Plans and Coastal Zone Management Plan – should essentially be grouped into one master plan that can stay in force for at least a decade. The piecemeal planning process currently followed needs a drastic transformation.
Having completed the 60th year of Liberation, the planning process has to encompass the entire Goan population. Development has to be for all and take all along, there has to be a consensus. The current period when the Outline Development Plans are in suspended mode and the decisions on the Section 16B of the Town and Country Planning Act being reviewed, would be the best time to set in motion the planning process for the future. If it is never too late to start, it is also never too early either. Can the authorities bring about a transformation in the planning process?