A group of non-government organisations has threatened to release a list of politicians from different parties for flouting the norms of the Regional Plan 2021 and converting huge tracts of land. They allege that huge tracts of farm lands, forest lands and communidade lands were illegally converted. The list is to be released by them at a public meeting scheduled to be held at the Lohia Maidan in Margao on Friday. The NGOs also have support of the Church-backed Council for Social Justice and Peace. The size of the crowd at the meeting would indicate if the NGOs’ agitation against the Regional Plan-2021, the outline development plans (ODPs) and the various planning and development authorities (PDAs) truly has public backing. Recently public protests forced the government to exclude most villages included in the Greater Panaji PDA. Although the organizers of the meeting have invited all political parties to join, the Congress party announced it will not participate in it. More or less similar is the stand of the other major political parties.
Town and Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardessai has promised action against those who flouted the rules and regulations of the Regional Plan 2021, converted huge tracts of land and appropriated farm lands, forest lands and communidade lands. He said he would have been glad to receive the list of violators the organizers of the Friday meeting have threatened to release; but the organizers insisted they would release it only at the meeting. It was not very clear why Sardessai wanted to have the list before the meeting. What difference do a few days make? He will have the list that would be made public on Friday and can start the process of action thereafter. Also, it is not that allegations of violations of the rules, regulations and norms of the Regional Plan or illegal transfers and appropriations of communidade lands would be made for the first time at the public meeting at the Lohia Maidan on Friday. Conversions of agricultural land have been a vast money making racket for politicians for the past several years. Why should violations be news to the town and country planning department, when it is the same department that has allowed small and large conversions for a price paid?
On their part, the organizers of the public meeting need to accept that there cannot be any systematic and controlled development without planning. There may be disputes over the structure and laws governing the planning instruments but there cannot be development without planning. It is absurd, for instance, to demand that there should be no road widening and no new roads. Can Goa sustain itself without widening of roads and construction of new ones? Would the NGOs stop Goans from buying cars and motorbikes for their personal transport? If they cannot they have to accept that roads have to be widened to include the increasing number of vehicles. The NGO groups want that only construction of family dwellings and village schools and hospitals be permitted in future. What about the employment of the local people? Would the employers set up their manufacturing or commercial units high up in the air?
It is a fact that the state’s development has not been based on the ground rules of sustainability. The destruction is visible. People can see the impact, feel it. However, the answer to that is not freezing everything. Even the damaged parts can be remedied wherever possible. Regeneration is possible. The rational thing to do is to change the bathwater, not to throw the baby with the bathwater. Planned and sustainable development can be facilitated and achieved only by mutual co-operation between the government and the society.
There is one more thing the organizers of the Friday meeting must avoid. They should not look like shooting at politicians only. They say though they know of hundreds of cases of illegal land conversions, they will highlight only 50 to 60 of them. Why should they expose only a few, especially politicians? Politicians need to be exposed first, no doubt, because they are the ones who go projecting themselves as ‘social workers’ who think day and night of nothing but public welfare and social progress. However, by being selective, the organizers would be doing a disservice to the cause of the fight for a sustainable model of development for Goa. It will present a wrong picture of Goan society, as immoral ways are a ladder not only politicians use to climb up to a better life, but the rest of us too. Selective targeting will blinker us and stop us from attacking the malady at its roots.