Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Intellectual and the Foundation of the New Goan Century

A few weeks ago while making a case for the now scrapped Regional Plan, the Chairperson of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry remarked how there was a need for such schemes as the increasingly discredited IT Park since there was a flight of the “intelligent class” away from Goa. In observing this flight from Goa Kunkolienkar does have a point. There is a massive flight of young and intelligent individuals from Goa primarily because they do not have the appropriate environment to flourish.

And yet, I am not going to turn this into an argument against the Government or indeed for the Regional Plan or such destructive plans like that of the supposed IT Park. We very often get the Government we deserve and my argument is that it is our society that does not value the intellectual enough. This lack of respect and value for the intellectual is what is creating the politically and socially state of affairs that Goa has been wallowing in for decades now.

The marginal position for the intellectual is clearly visible in the fate of that most glorious of Goan institutions, the Central Library. From its current location within the centre of Panjim, there are plans to shift the building to Patto. From a central location accessible with ease to all within and outside of the city, we are going to shift the library to a building that can be reached currently only with a good amount of difficulty. In this shoddy treatment to an institution that has moulded generations of Goans, we can gauge our society’s respect and recognition of the intellectual.

The library building will reportedly be from the first floor upwards, since the ground floor will be devoted to shops. Selling coconuts, rice and a variety of vernacular smut no doubt! The ease with which the powers that be decided to locate shops at the base of a fine intellectual institution is once again indicative of what exactly our society considers the fundamental basis for success in the world. Money, money, money. If Goa has been able to move, rather successfully, from being some sort of a feudal society to a modern society then due credit has to be given to its large middle class. Ignoring the problems with considering persons settled abroad as Goan, I will for the moment include them to count on the middle class (and even super-rich) Goan, as being spread throughout the globe. Goa made one leap with some ease. The next step, of inculcating a value for education for the sheer sake of producing knowledge and being able to examine an issue from a variety of perspectives has been by and large ignored.

It has become the flavour of the moment to call persons now settled comfortably in other parts of the world members of a Diaspora; Goa is no exception. And yet compare the Goan diaspora to the mother of all, indeed the original diaspora, the Jewish diaspora. The number of Jewish foundations flush with money and spending on intellectual and cultural innovation within (and outside of) the community is mind-boggling. Where, I would like to inquire do we find a similar investment by and for the Goan community? There are ofcourse a variety of Trusts set up by the ‘prominent’ families in Goa but any activity that would even mildly threaten to disturb the status quo receives no support. In addition, it appears that one is expected to be eternally grateful and beholden to the persons who created the endowment from which one is benefiting. Hardly the kind of environment for critical intellectual and cultural activity to take off.

There has been much enthusiasm in the wake of the apparent victory of the Save Goa Campaign over the Regional Plan. There have been well-intentioned cyber-Goenkars who have suggested, quite appropriately that they ought not to just sit around but support the activity taking place in Goa. And yet, this may not be quite the answer in the current environment when the campaign is the product of multiple and strange bed-fellows. Not all of whose credentials are either impeccable, nor their intentions bona fide. But rather than let a good idea go waste we need to figure out ways in which we can pour in diasporic money and encourage a flourishing of critical and questioning intellectual and cultural renaissance. We need foundations that will fund scholars young and old to locate themselves in Goa and add new insight into an already vibrant civil society. Funds that will assure Goan youth that Goa is a destination that encourages local talent to engage in intellectual exploration, giving them the financial and institutional strength to pursue intellectual trajectories and yet be rooted in Goa. We need funds that will award those who build new buildings respectful of its environs and our environment. We need foundations that will support young and upcoming artists and musicians. All of these will challenge the uneasy and delicate peace presided over by political bosses and business houses. And yet this will, like the churning of the Ocean of Milk, bring forth vibrance that can only come where the intellectual is valued and respected, not for the money s/he brings home, but the learning s/he generates. Now when are those dollars going to start pouring in?
(published in the Gomantak Times, 7th Feb 2007)

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)