Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Resignations, Popular Politics and the Force of Law

Dr. Oscar Rebello, formerly Convenor of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan is reported to have made the following statement while announcing to the Press his decision to resign his position in the GBA; “So on the one hand you have GBA members insisting that the spirit of these two amendments be included; on the other hand you have a situation where no one is willing to say how this can be accomplished”.

I can scarcely believe that the GBA lacks the imagination to operationalize the 73rd and the 74th amendments to the Constitution. Perhaps there is a lack of will to translate the radical visions of democratic planning, but then that is another matter altogether. Let us take Dr. Rebello’s statements as fact though, and attempt an injection of imagination into the body of the GBA.

We must remember that it was GBA’s amplification of the cry for Participatory planning that got the GBA a place in the Task Force for the Regional Plan 2011. Realizing the ideal of participatory planning within the Constitutional framework rests on the elaboration of the idea of the Village Development Plan contained in Article 243 G of the 73rd amendment to the Constitution.

Art. 243 G indicates to us that the plans prepared by the panchayat should be concerned with economic development and social justice. That the two words appear together is significant, since it also points out to us the manner in which economic development must be achieved. From this point on, principles of planning take over and provide a base from which to articulate participatory planning for Goa. Participatory and sensitive planning models would argue that such a village development plan would first require the mapping of existing land uses. This is to say that we first figure out what is going on on the ground. Who is cultivating what and where, where are buildings located, which are the open spaces and what are the multiple uses they are being put to. Once this is done, you engage in a projection of how these existing demands will increase in the future, owing to population growth. Once this is figured out, you are now in a position to determine which new developments you can introduce into the area. Since you now have your facts and figures in front of you, you can predict with a good amount of certainty, the impacts that new developments will have on an area. Since you can predict some of the impacts, you can now ensure that the numbers impacted by new developments will be provided appropriate rehabilitation. For example, if we know that there are a good number of villagers using firewood, we know that we need to make adequate provisions for this firewood-using community before we axe the village forests for a government project.

Once we recognize this logic, a logic already recognized by the Goan people, we need to push it into a mechanism that will see this logic democratically articulated. The Constitution already recognizes that the Village Development Plan (VDP) needs to eventually merge with the District Development Plan. So we know what to do once we have the VDP. However, how does one articulate the VDP? This is where the ward committees come in to play. The Ward committees need to be supported by technical staff, who help them map out the various socio-economic aspects of the life of the ward, and their demand on various resources. Once this is done, the draft plan is submitted to a general body of the ward, and refined through the process of a ward level public hearing. Once articulated in this manner, the ward level maps are reworked into a village level map, once again refined through a village level public hearing process. As with the earlier process, any decision taken by the Panchayat, or the ward committee, has to be justified with elaborate reasons. The reasoning will allow the decision to stand the test of a court of law, or of the people. In other words, prevent any hanky panky. To prevent the marginalization of vulnerable groups, it is normally recommended that the mapping of these groups be commenced prior in time to the mapping of other dominant groups. This ensures that the marginal groups have the space to articulate and claim their rights to resources. While crunched and simplified to fit the demands of a column, it should nevertheless be clear that we do have a mechanism to ensure participatory local planning. This method ensures that not only are existing uses of local people recognized in a plan, but it is also possible for the State and private developmental interests to identify spaces for development with minimal resistance. When first attempted, this process will take time. However, it will lay the foundations for proper planning, which will be well worth the time.

And yet, if it is as simple as this, if this vision is now commonplace with even marginally well-schooled planners, how come this imagination has not percolated into the GBA? Perhaps the answer lies in what the Task Force sees as its goal, and not really in the lack of an imagination for popular participatory planning. While the demand of the Goan people was clearly for holistic socio-economic planning before land-use planning, the Task Force is apparently under the impression that it is required to engage only in land-use planning. As such, even if it does see this process as relevant, it does not see a role for itself in translating it into law. Since it seems to think it cannot translate it into law, or that the process of proper planning will involve a substantial amount of time, it has decided to stick to the easy bit. Take out the coloured pencils, and sketch away furiously. This may be well-intentioned, but it will not meet the demands of the Goan people. We have to recognize that the Task Force resulted from a demand of the Goan people and it should find its mandate in that popular demand. Its mandate is not to tell us what our land should be zoned as, but to set in place a legal mechanism to articulate this participatory planning process year after year. This is its primary task, one that it seems either unwilling, or unable to perform. Perhaps it is the conflicts that emerge from this situation that has had something to do with the resignation of the former convenor of the GBA?

Law exists in a tense relationship with popular politics. While law seeks to preserve and maintain the status quo, popular politics seeks to reframe the status quo. To do this, it challenges the law, seeking to empty out the obnoxious contents and fill it with processes and principles that will realize a new vision. A popular movement therefore almost inevitably stands in opposition to the law, its agenda based on recognition of the illegitimacy of the status quo framed by law. When co-opted by the State and its legal process, popular movements often flounder seduced by the ‘naturalness’ of legal process. It is time for the GBA to wake up and smell the coffee burning. A wholesale revision of planning legislations in Goa is what was effectively demanded by the Goan people, and if it is not to let us down, the GBA should stick to this agenda and demand the Task Force fall in line.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 6th Aug 2008)

No comments: