Goa, considered laid back and a destination for fun and frolic, of fiestas and siestas, is actually proving to be a torchbearer of serious construction activities. Concepts of local self-governance, NGOs, citizens' participation, have been aptly realised by the people of Goa. Within the same political systems and syntax of politics, Goa has shown a different accent when it comes to civic issues affecting citizens.
Like all other places, Goa also has Gramsabha constituted by electorate processes. The difference though is that Gramsabha exercises its rights and responsibilities. Professionals and intellectuals don't shy away from politics and development debates but take proactive part in developmental affairs. There are over 400 voluntary NGOs in Goa and all of them have taken up a cause specific to local civic issues.
Each performs as a civic-consumer pressure group focussing on a particular cause. There are registered organisations looking into angler issues to groups championing cause of the Goan heritage. Pressure groups safeguard environment and beaches while envisioning and evolving development plans.
Contrary to obvious suspicions, these are not aligned with political parties. They are composed of leading citizens, intellectuals who sincerely attend Gramsabha, raise awareness and also become conduit between authorities and the consumer. Also contrary to popular belief, these issues prioritised are not personal but largely concern citizens' rights, protection and safeguard of natural resources like land, water, and agricultural fields. They are also involved in conservation of Goan heritage, preservation of buildings and affectivity of proposed new developments. These groups do not work at cross purpose or in isolation. They combine forces for overlapping and interrelated issues.
One of the more recent serious issues being debated, agitated and actively acted upon is the proposed regional plan 2021 of Goa. Of the many aspects of this debate, the one under serious review is the proposed 70 metre-wide north-south axis highway proposed in the development plan. It is believed that this idea will benefit iron-ore mining barons the most. The proposed road would undermine existing east-west coastal highway, eating into swathes of agricultural land.
The widened road will split various neighbourhoods and villages and hamper natural course of water and drainage pattern. It would also uproot homes and destroy several heritage structures.
Most of the NGOs and groups of citizens have come together to protest, raise awareness among citizens by explaining implications of the proposed plans and have done serious surveys and analysis of the situation.
Charles Correa, noted architect and apparently a Goan, has been roped in who is heading the team to prepare alternative proposal to the proposed Regional Plan 2021. Thus, it is not only about opposition, but positive constructivism. These people groups organise free bus ride to mining locations to make people aware of the ground realities and understand their point of view better.
Alternative proposal tries to prove that width of road required is 35 metres instead of the proposed 70 metres. This reduction in width and alternative alignment has fewer properties disrupted, heritage structures preserved and social divide by physical barrier thwarted. There is a clear democratic pressure on the government to include provisions suggested by the local groups.
These initiatives are not destructive Hartals but a call to keep businesses shut to attend Gramsabha and actively participate in the issues. Local Panchayats monitor all this development. Proposals are approved only after local review by Panch and groups.
For instance, a sizeable portion of land in Goa, which was once under Portuguese regime, has now come into civic domain as Place Comunidad. This land cannot be appropriated for private use, development or sale.
Encroachments or norms violated are vigilantly monitored and reported actively to concerned authority. Projects involving resorts and water rides have been stalled to save natural and built heritage resource.
Can't we duplicate such network of NGOs, reputed institutes and intelligent human resources at the global scale? We have had the most successful precedent in Ahmedabad in 1833 where city wall restoration committee consisted only of citizens who initiated development and actually realised it, without any help from the government. Sixth centenary year can be a good excuse to
revisit some of these endeavours.
— The author is a city-based architect and historian