Friday, December 29, 2006

Rethinking the Aesthetic Objection to Goa's Regional Plan

For what it is worth, I would like to add my voice to the cries against Regional Plan 2011. It is becomingly increasingly obvious that what the Regional Plan is allowing is the large scale conversion of land into real estate that can be bought and sold by persons who will not live in Goa and contribute to our lives. I often call Goa the whore of India, for that is exactly what it has become. It has become a place where everything is measured for money, land, water, people. Like the whore, they have value only as tradable commodities in a speculative market. True it will create money in the short term, but money for who? And once the boom is followed by the inevitable crash will Goa and the people be able to recover from that crash?

While I support the opposition to the Regional Plan, I fear that perhaps our opposition is not deep enough and in the long run will not be sustainable. Some amount of the opposition to the Regional Plan has been aesthetic. Lamenting the loss of our green hills, our vast fields and the picturesque towns and villages. While I fear this loss too, I believe that there is a deeper issue that we have to honestly face and grapple with. This grappling is going to be much tougher than getting the Regional Plan scrapped, since we are definitely going to get the Plan scrapped and show the political establishment, who exactly is boss.

What is the core issue then? The core issue to my mind is that Monserrate’s villainy is only the visible part of a much larger problem. In fact we are all silently participating in his villainy and we need to be honest about it. True there are people in Tiswadi who are being forced to sell their lands to developers who have the backing of politicians in power. However, there are also other people who are actively converting their fields into building sites, people who are selling their private forests for the development of apartment blocks. If we were to actually put the Plan to an electoral vote, is it possible that the Plan will win an overwhelming victory? If yes, then we need to address this core issue.

Way back in the 80’s Prof. Bob Newman observed in his writings on Goa, that in Goa, capital is created through the destruction of land. As we oppose the Regional Plan, we also need to realize that this destruction of natural resources is the only way a good number of Goans can raise capital to see themselves into a better lifestyle. We have to cater to this segment in very real terms if we are to ensure that we end once and for all this destructive form of development that has taken root in Goa. In the end, one can sing of the beauty of Goa only as long as one’s basic desires and needs are met. There can be no return to the Goa of old, where we were happy with our Kaxti and Xit Codi. Globalisation has ensured that we all desire for more. A brief scan of the opposition to the Regional Plan indicates that the most vocal opposers of the plan have a source of livelihood that allows them to lead globalised lifestyles. If we don’t make provision for those Goans who wish to enjoy this lifestyle but cannot, then eventually our campaign will be doomed to failure. Monserrate caters to this segment, and if we are to eventually win, we will have to as well.

And remember that not for a minute am I arguing that this is a good reason to allow the Plan to come in. The Plan uses the hare-brained development models being imposed in the rest of India as the fig leaf for the Monserrates and the Ranes of Goa. It does not and will not work for these persons who are at the periphery of our society. The only problem is that they don’t know that yet. In Taligao, the residents of Nagali are loosing their crematorium, their grazing lands and their fields. But they have been promised jobs- which ofcourse will never come. But they don’t know that. We do. If we need to have their full support and backing, if we are to ensure that the opposition to Regional Plan 2011 and the larger move to preserve Goa is to be a success we also need to think seriously of how we can generate meaningful employment within Goa. It is only if we pay our waiters, servants, teachers and clerical staff more, much much more, that they will be able to enjoy the aesthetic qualities of our environment. Until we do that, they will only see the environment as the one resource they can use to make that extra buck. While we will see the environment only for its aesthetic appeal and eventually loose the battle to protect not just the beauty of our land, but the lifestyle and the people it creates with it.

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