Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stewardship of Public Property: The good fight against the Kala Academy annexe

If one is to credit the Panjim gossips, then the trees planted beyond the Campal promenade were motivated by the MGP government’s malice towards the Campal residents. The trees were planted to block the residents’ view of the river. Even if one assumed this yarn to be true however, the current opposition by the Campal residents to the tree felling involved with the construction of the Kala Academy’s annexe need not be laughed away as ironic. On the contrary, it would underscore an important aspect of the environmental movement, that of stewardship. The environmental movement exists not just to preserve what exists, but to extend a rehabilitation of our environment. It is this principle of stewardship that could guide us in the resolution of the conflict that has emerged in the case of the proposed annexe construction.

The Kala Academy is a valuable cultural resource for the people of Goa, and as with all resources under the command of a steward, it deserves to be extended. For this reason, it is somewhat puzzling why the authorities would seek to develop an auditorium and other components of the annexe within the constrained space that now serves as a parking lot. As the opposition to the project has been pointing out, the current parking options for the Kala Academy are woefully inadequate, especially given the Academy’s location along an important artery of the city. The opposition has suggested that the Academy either take over the heritage property of the Escola Medica or erect an appropriate annexe in the government acquired ‘IT Park’ land lying vacant in Dona Paula. These are both wonderful solutions, and the Kala Academy should seize the opportunity, and use these suggestions to take both options. The halls of the Escola Medica would make wonderful exhibition, and music practice, spaces. Giving the Academy the land in Dona Paula would genuinely fulfil the public purpose for which it was acquired. The ‘IT Park’ was a real estate scam, intended to convert public property to private profits. Giving this land to the Kala Academy would extend the concept of stewardship. Just as the current premises were converted into an urban garden that residents are fighting to preserve, this transfer would allow us to convert what is now barren land, into a vast green space for the city and State. Augmenting the holdings of the Kala Academy would allow it to build not just a small annexe but an institution with the infrastructure necessary to host the international events that Goa has begun to attract. While this would culturally benefit the people of Goa, it would also allow the Academy to augment its current offerings for its students of music, dance and theatre. The opposition to the extension should ask the question, why is the Academy thinking so small? Think big, especially when it is in the public interest. For too long politics in Goa has been about augmenting the private pockets of a few, it is time that we also speak of augmenting the public pocket by allowing the Kala Academy a larger access to resources.

The opposition to the annexe highlights the concept of stewardship in yet another manner. It points to the necessary role that residents must play in the design of their neighbourhoods. This concept has already been argued for the villages in Goa, the current opposition is a ripe moment to call for public hearings for proposed developments in Goa’s urban spaces as well. When their neighbourhood is constantly forced to double up as Kala Academy’s parking lot, the residents of Campal have a right to determine what the Kala Academy may, or may not do with its property. To be sure, this principle does not apply only to the residents of Campal, but needs to be adopted more generally as a principle for urban design within Goa.

The arguments that the opposition to the project have raised, and are extracted below, go to demonstrate the manner in which neighbourly concern can generate the basis for sound planning.

307 parking spaces have been provided for existing Kala Academy structure as well as the new annexe. Calculate for yourself. One car carries four persons, a scooter two. The present auditorium has 954 seats, the open air amphitheatre has 1034 seats besides people attending exhibitions, consumer melas, music and dance classes as well as offices and the canteen, and add to that seats in the new auditorium and other spaces in the annexe. Are we heading for a disaster?

Good planning should take into consideration the impact the proposed building would have on the surrounding space, its environment i.e. its tree cover as well as the people living or moving around. We feel that all this has been ignored and the authorities have been “pressurized” into issuing the necessary permissions without considering any of
these aspects

Valid points that the Kala Academy seems to have strangely ignored. We should not exclude the possibility that these crucial details have been ignored because the Academy is as much a victim of the sorry state of governance in Goa, as the residents of Campal and Panjim. Forced to operate within the land that was granted to it at inception, and forced to augment its capacities, what other options does it have? It would make sense therefore for the opposition to join forces with the Kala Academy and point out that its opposition is not blind opposition, but support for an augmenting of the Kala Academy’s and the Goan public’s common resources. The opposition is in fact opening up opportunities for the Kala Academy to grab while the proverbial iron is hot.

One of the weaknesses of the Goan public is that it fails to convert protest into systemic change. The current opposition would be a good opportunity to change that situation. It offers us numerous opportunities for change. While opposing the extension, it can insist on the principle of public participation in urban design, especially of the neighbourhood to have a say in future development. This must be recognised as a principle of law and enshrined in State law. Second, it opens up the possibility for the citizens of Campal to work with citizens in Taleigão and Dona Paula that were opposed to the land grab scheme that passed under the name of the ‘IT Park’. Creating the Kala Academy’s extension campus on part (or all of) the government land in Dona Paula will create many more public jobs, while retaining real estate in the public account rather than privatising it. There are a number of principles of public interest that can be affirmed through this opposition, and the opposition has already drawn wider public support than merely from the residents of Campal. This must necessarily be converted into a wider movement to affirm the principle of public stewardship.

Finally, given that Panjim was recently the stage for the battle of two Titans who swore their commitment to Panjim, it would not be a bad idea to have these two Titans demonstrate their commitment, not through a piece-meal addressing of the Kala Academy annexe alone, but by converting the demands of the opposition into principles enshrined in law and State practice.

(First published in the Gomantak Times 6 April 2011)

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