Friday, February 2, 2007

Responding to Kunkolienkar’s Defence of the Regional Plan

A fortnight ago the Navhind Times interviewed Nitin Kunkolienkar, President of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry on his views on the opposition to and the demand for the denotification of the Regional Plan 2011. I would like to engage with some of his views since they represent the viewpoint of a number of influential persons within the State.

The first point he articulates is that the plan has been prepared by experts after reviewing a number of aspects like the infrastructural development of the state, new areas of growth that are likely to take place in view of economic liberalization and is not an individual document even though unfortunately some undesirable clauses had been incorporated into it at the last moment. These he argues can be rectified easily.

There are two issues here, one of the importance of process in a democracy under the rule of law, and the other, what sort of a democracy are we committed to? Justice, a famous legal maxim goes, must not only be done, but seen to have been done. It stresses the importance of procedure in the delivery of justice. In the case of the Regional Plan 2011, there was a violation of procedure on both the evolution of the plan, and the insertion of ‘individual’ requirements into the plan.

There was a less than appropriate involvement of the common person in the evolution of the Regional Plan. Notices were sent no doubt to invite comment on the plan, but who was going to explain the technical details it to the individual and community? If we are to take the Constitution’s mandate of decentralization seriously, then there is a need for a team of experts to visit each individual village, map out existing uses of the land, superimpose the proposed uses over it and list out the impacts of these. This process of planning envisages a just role for both expert and common person, where both can talk to each other, learn from each other; with opposition only serves to iron out existing tensions and faults within society and Plan. This form of planning is recognized as commonplace and required in various parts of the world and even the Central Government is slowly getting into this mode. In failing to organise the planning process in such a way the Regional Plan did not involve the common man and compromised the quality of expert advice. Given that there are procedural errors in the articulation of the plan, the Plan itself is the problem. Besides, without a process in place, and a process to identify the problems how on earth can one identify the problems that are to be pulled out? This is not merely a legalistic quibble but a necessary consequence of taking democracy seriously.

Kunkolienkar then went on to point out that if planning as represented by the Regional Plan is delayed Goa would be the loser in development. This would adversely affect our economic growth and make us ‘remain’ backward. This vision of doom is the oldest trick in the developmental book: the shame of being backward and the loss of goodies which are on offer for the moment alone. Once again it relegates process and debate to the backburner and privileges autocratic decision making. What such business plans do is create a platform for inequitable growth, where a minority grows rich on the exploitation of the general public and the environment. This service of a minority is a major reason why the proposed SEZ are also being opposed.

Everyone agrees that there are huge problems with tourism and the mining industry in Goa despite the huge amounts of revenue they bring into the State. And yet we are not talking about it. There is no serious and organized debate being organized about it. On the contrary we see the Regional Plan as being able to offer solutions without addressing the problems that already exist. Something like pushing dust under the carpet. We need to seriously take stock of the tourist and mining business in the State, ensure that it is more equitable, so that it will allow for greater and more equitable generation of internal revenue. Better working conditions and salaries could well allow for retention of Goans within Goa, as well as the investment of these revenues in new-economy business and intellectual endeavours. All of this requires pubic debate that leads to a Regional Plan, and this can only be done through the process outlined above.

There isn’t much space left to deal with Kunkolienkar’s opinion and so I will end by responding to his take on the inevitability of urbanization and the growth of the real-estate development business. He stated that “that rural areas have never remained rural in any part of the world and over a period of time urbanisation takes place.” It is a “pattern” that “just cannot be reversed. Goa, that is 50 per cent urbanised now, would have at least 65 per cent of its area in the urban zone over the next decade or so…”

This entire argument is based on an outdated understanding of rural and urban. Older urban studies defined the rural against the urban. As such, an aesthetic of concrete high-rises came to define the urban, as seen in Kunkolienkar’s argument. Others would argue, more appropriately in my opinion, that the distinction is itself flawed. The so called rural areas have had a relationship with the urban, and have therefore been urbanized for a long time now. Perhaps a better way would be to think of these places as having less than equitable access to resources and facilities. This in no way is tied to the aesthetic of highly concentrated high rise buildings is being pushed by Kunkolienkar. All over the world there is a new understanding of cities, wherein well-developed (for want of a better word) villages with a good proportion of greenery to built-form ration, of low-rise, high density structures are being considered as contemporary, relevant and ecologically sound. By this logic Goa’s villages have had an urban character for ages now and there is no reason why this should be bypassed as impractical. On the contrary they could serve as a planning model. Besides what Kunkolienkar does not tell us, that a good amount of the real estate development is fuelled by speculation, which not only does not cater to the local resident, but since not fuelled by need, is in the long run wasteful.

Kunkolienkar’s concern stems from a valid concern, but once he realizes that the implications of his solutions are essentially anti-democratic, perhaps he would see the other point of view?
(Published in the Gomantak Times, 31 January 2007)

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