Goa must grow...but how?

On January 26, 2007, the government of Goa withdrew its newest blueprint for the development of the state, called the Regional Plan 2011. Chief minister Pratapsingh Rane said the move was made "respecting the people's sentiments", indirectly admitting the government had bowed to popular outcry against the plan.
Investigating the process that led to this backtracking, and analysing its implications, indrajit bose finds an imperative has morphed into a dilemma. Goa must grow.

But how?
Is there a way out of the development impasse?

Published: Wednesday 28 February 2007

Goa must grow...but how?

The official blueprint Goa currently follows is the Regional Plan 2001. It was notified in 1986, and today there is unanimity that this plan has become redundant. For two compelling reasons--both related to conserving the state's natural beauty, but with major implications for land use. First, the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 1991 restricts development within 500 metres of coastal land as well as land along rivers, estuaries, bays and creeks (wherever tidal effects are left). In effect, says the state government, over 7,000 hectares (ha)--less than 2 per cent of the state's land area but its most valued real estate--is prohibited, or restricted. Then, in the 1990s, the Supreme Court directed even private lands be brought under the ambit of forest regulations. And, according to the Forest Survey of India, roughly 60 per cent of the state's area is forested.

Work on a new plan began in 1997.It wasn't merely a question of accounting for the two regulations the face of Goa's economy was changing, with tourism poised to grow and an upsurge in the real estate market. When it was notified nine years later, people cried foul, saying consultations were not held. Or, if held, incorporated changes suiting big business and real estate sharks. People alleged foul play and massive corruption in land deals, which would ravage the blue-green state and destroy the 'goose that lays the golden egg'--the tourism industry built on Goa's natural beauty.

The 2011 plan
The Revised Regional Plan Goa Perspective 2011, final draft report, is dated September 2003. It was outsourced by the state to Consulting Engineering Services (ces) Pvt Ltd, with headquarters in Delhi. The government says it was deliberated upon in meetings and seminars, before the Town and Country Planning Department--the state's nodal agency--considered it, and the cabinet approved it. In its affidavit to the High Court--where a case is being heard on the matter--the government has stated the draft regional plan was open to the public for comments for two months, which was extended by three weeks "though this three week period was neither required by statute nor under the law but only so the views of the public could be considered".

Only then was the final plan notified, on August 10, 2006.

Transparent plan?
Down to Earth Goa Bachao Abhiyan activists allege that the plan has been successively and deliberately changed to increase the area classified as urban. Between the existing plan (2001) and the draft plan (2011), they allege, the area has increased from 29,297 ha--which was classified as settlement--to 36,994 ha by the time of the draft plan 2011 and to 45,000 ha by the time the plan was notified.

Goa's total geographic area is 370,200 ha, which means that area under settlement has been increased from 8 per cent to 13 per cent of the land. To make their point clearly, citizens resisting the plan have prepared detailed maps of existing areas (see maps Arbitrary conversions) showing conversions in the surface utilisation map the government issued.

The latter was done "without any consultation with local communities and without their consent", according to a petition filed in the Panaji bench of the Mumbai High Court by Goa Heritage Action Group--a registered association of people concerned with Goa's natural and built architecture--and its office bearers, Dean D'Cruz and Heta Pandit.

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