Non-profits say residents not provided information to enable them to file objections
Development plans for cities and regions across India are dogged by one criticism: they keep people, whom the plans are supposed to benefit, out of the planning process. The land use and spatial plans are drawn inside closed rooms by planners, politicians and bureaucrats. The Regional Plan for Goa with a 20 year perspective (RP 2021) is no different, say non-profits, though, authorities claim it provides for a participatory process wherein people are consulted before the plans are finalised.
Goa's RP 2021 was notified over the past few months and the final taluka-wise plans have been released. The regional plan will determine which way the state is headed and its policy document provides for two distinct processes—stage 1 and 2. Stage 1 comprises policies and other decisions made by the government which are contained in what is termed the policy document. Stage 1 provides for a mechanism for submission of suggestions, finalising the regional plan and its final notification, which is the process that is being followed in most cities and towns for finalising master plans. Activists say this process violates the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution which mandates people's participation before land use plans are drawn.
Stage 2 provides for the promised participatory process, under which taluka-wise maps on a scale of 1:2,000 has to be made available to people to enable the preparation of detailed ward-level local area plans (LAPs) and settlement plans (maps of existing settlements like houses and shops). These plans have to conform to the overall regional plan and people who are involved at this stage are required to verify and update baseline information and help prepare settlement plans based on LAPs.
The policy document mandates an additional three months for completing this process. Activists and non-profits say the authorities are only making a pretence of involving people in the consultative process. “The stage 2 deliverables and processes are not fully identified in the policy document and plans have not been made available to people, which would enable them to prepare LAPs and settlement plans,” says Abhijit Prabhudesai, member of the Goyenchea Xetkarancho Ekvott, a non-profit in Madgaon town, the capital of Salcete taluka in South Goa.
Sidharth Karapurkar, member of Preserve Goa, another non-profit in Madgaon, says the policy document announces it is following the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment and observes that top-down decision making followed in the preparation of regional plans so far is responsible for distorted planning and exploitation (of poor people) by vested interests across the country. But there is no assurance that people's decision will have precedence in case of conflict between stage 1 and stage 2. “The very notification of RP 2021, has rendered the consultative process futile,” says Karapurkar.
Plan prepared without correct data, surveys
Prabhudesai agrees. “Our review of stage 1 process reveals that it is not much different from process used in formalising RP 2011, which was eventually rejected by the people,” he says. The only change this time round is that people have been given 90 days to file objections, instead of two months, Prabhudesai adds.
He goes on to say that the two stages of the RP 2021 are, in fact, mutually exclusive and independent processes. “People's participation cannot be effective if the decisions and policies are already determined by the government. The stage 1 process, thus, renders the stage 2 processes superfluous and meaningless.”
The stage 1 process has many anomalies, say activists. Regional plans, as a rule, are preceded by geographical and socio-economic surveys, which then become the basis for the master plan. Goa's regional plan is based on inaccurate baseline information and data.
The government has admitted in the preamble of the draft stage RP 2021 that the data available with the government is only secondary. It also says that data available is sectoral and is uncoordinated. The plan expresses disappointment over the numerous errors in data available and the reluctance of government departments to collect data, points out Prabhudesai.
Karapurkar says the plan violates Section 10 of the the Town and Country Planning Act of 1974, under which the regional plan was prepared because the baseline data and information are not correct. The section mandates that the government should first collect the geographical and socio-economic data, necessary to arrive at an accurate assessment of the factual realities, based on which the regional plan has to be prepared, he says.
The draft RP 2021 exhorts people to verify and update the data without providing people with the secondary data required. When asked about the data, the taluka-level technical teams told the people to obtain them from individual departments, including those in charge of public works, survey and land records, forests and agriculture, activists say, while pointing out glaring errors in ward-level plans (see 'Removed from reality'). “It is obvious that we cannot verify the data unless it is made available to us and it is only logical that government provides people with the data that is already collected and organised by the task force for preparing RP 2021,” says Karapurkar.
'New land use areas added arbitrarily'
Sabina Martins of Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA), a Panjim-based non-profit which has studied the ward maps of Pernem and Canacoa talukas, says there are some positive aspects in the plan like use of improved mapping techniques and demarcation of ecologically sensitive zones. “But there are no clear-cut ideas or guidelines for change of zone and there are sudden unexplained insertions of areas as settlement zones and industrial zones, which were not there in draft stage RP 2021 maps and village maps submitted by Panchayats (the state government was supposed to send back the final maps to respective Panchayats for approval. The village panchayats were asked to prepare the initial maps, but the information was allegedly manipulated in the final maps issued by the authorities) Martins says that the insertions seem to have been made at the behest of people with vested interest.
Giving instances, Martins says a large settlement zone belonging to a hotel, among others, has been added to Mandrem village in Pernem taluka on land survey numbers 210-215, which was not shown in the draft plan or ward plans. Similarly, Paliem village in north Goa has new settlement zones, which were not there in the village maps of the draft plan. Caragao village in South Goa has an industrial estate marked in the coastal regulation zone limits, which was not there in the earlier map in the draft plan.
Martins also says the Regional Plan contains several conflicting policies. For instance, the draft plan indicates mining will be phased out in the interest of the health of the state and the draft RP 2021 shows 89 active mines. “But the current notified plan shows 129. This means 40 mining leases have been released in the past three years alone. Khola village now shows a bauxite mine, which was not marked in the draft plan or the drafts sent by the village panchayat,” says Martins.
Another instance of arbitrary policy decision can be seen in the case of Vrinoda village. The final Pernem taluka plan shows parts of adjoining Pernem village as a part of Virnoda. Martins was also critical of RP 2021 for not introducing eco-tourism zones for discussion. Martins says many things shown in the maps do not exist. For instance, a 15 metre-wide road is shown when actually there is just 3 metre-wide road. This, she claims has been done to benefit rich people who want to create bigger access roads to their properties. On the other hand, micro-industrial zones, have not been put through the process of debate, she adds. The notified document is also silent on key sectors like agriculture and aspects vital for sustainable development.
The finalisation of the plan began with a modicum of transparency, with the task force on RP 2021 uploading village maps on the Goa government website. But the link to village plans have now been deleted and and Pernem taluka plan is no longer available at the Town and Country Planning department's office in Mapusa town. The official gazette of November 2010 designated the Mapusa office as the place to get all the required documents like maps and plans.
“The arbitrariness of the insertions made in the plans, just before notifying RP 2021, undermines good planning and opens the doors for vested interests,” says Martins. GBA has demanded that the government follows its obligation of involving people in the planning process for finalising the plan and remove faulty and ill-defined policies.
The Chief town planner of Goa, S T Puttaraju, says some groups are opposing the regional plan, claiming that there are several errors. “We are open for discussions to rectify the things. Those who find errors in the regional plan can submit their suggestions and objections at facility centres established for the purpose. We will scruitinise the same and correct the errors if any.”
All inputs and observations or errors have to be forwarded by individuals or the respective panchayats, gram sabhas, village bodies or village-level committee to the chief town planner by December 5, 2011. After all the data is verified and sorted, date shall be given to every panchayat for hearing and consultation. Puttaraju says that the Regional Plan has protected the identity of the state and follows a method and design not seen in the country before. There is possibility of errors in the plan, which will be rectified, Puttaraju says.