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The shrink-wrapping of Goa

By Rahul Goswami

Real estate developers have allied with politicians in Goa to create a brand new economy in this well-known holiday state. Already under pressure from dwindling land resources and poor, scanty infrastructure, Goa's rural population is being left out of any socio-economic gains

 

 

Goa's chief minister and senior administrators have become adept at parading a dubious set of indices to pretend that high literacy, overflowing bank deposits and stunning scenery make the year-round holiday destination India's most coveted living space.

Today, Goa's midland villages are anything but that. The tourism euro has passed them by, and their fields have either been rendered uncultivable by the wastes from iron ore mining or are being gobbled up by property developers and promoters of industrial zones.

In desperation and outrage, village groups began banding together in 2006 to confront the problem. First, they documented the acquisitions and listed the likely impacts of unplanned industrial development in which they were neither considered nor consulted. Next, they petitioned government and local authorities. Then they agitated. Finally, they physically stopped such work on their ground, being forced to take over an important responsibility of the state government.

The closing weeks of 2007 again brought the people of Goa out into the streets to protest the threat of widespread dispossession of land. This had happened early in 2007 too, when the state-wide agitation against the now-scrapped Regional Plan 2011 peaked.

There have been attempts to politically neutralise the anti-SEZ groupings by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party just as much as the ruling Congress has sought to soft-pedal the issue by calling for the three notified SEZs to be denotified and the remainder to be rejected. The anti-SEZ groups remain wary however, for the Regional Plan experience is still fresh: for months the state government ignored continuing land use violations that effectively took forward the massive property developments envisioned in the scrapped plan.

The re-awakening of the "don't touch our land" sentiment within so short a period is an indicator of much deeper problems that simmer in Goa, a number of them shared with communities elsewhere in India that face the industrialisation-urbanisation onslaught.

On December 10, 2007 the Federation of Gawda Kunbi Velip Dhangar (Gakuved), a social justice combine representing Goa's scheduled tribes and indigenous communities and comprising 12% of the state's population, held a public meeting in the southern taluka of Quepem. They spoke out against human rights abuse and the excesses of illegal mining. Three days later, on December 14, a public meeting called by the SEZ Virodhi Manch in Madgaon (south Goa district headquarters) was emphatically responded to by urban and rural Goans alike. Finally, on December 19, which is Goa Liberation Day, resolutions opposing SEZs were passed by a number of gram sabhas across the state.

Goa's current administration has sought to deflect criticism and blame by assuring citizens that SEZs will not be built. Yet the same state has through a statutory corporation -- the Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) -- favoured SEZ promoters, as uncovered and documented by the SEZ Virodhi Manch.

Official Goa's favours have benefited many and amongst them are SEZ promoters: Inox Mercantile Company Pvt Ltd, which was being allotted 14% more land than it applied for; Planet View Mercantile Co Pvt Ltd, which was neither incorporated on the day of its application nor when its proposal was approved by the GIDC board; and Paradigm Logistics and Distribution Pvt Ltd, which paid the GIDC Rs 3.17 crore before the board approved its proposal. The Manch has accused these promoters and the GIDC of violating the SEZ Act 2005, the Goa, Daman and Diu Industrial Development Act 1965, and the rules and regulations framed under that Act.

In every single case, the government has invoked the Urgency Clause under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 to take possession of these fields and hilltops. That such an annexing of land has proceeded with impunity in India's smallest state speaks of the countrywide frenzy to commoditise a common resource. This accomplishment in Goa has relied on what Dr Aureliano Fernandes, head of the department of political science at Goa University, calls "the pandemic nature of corruption" in the state.

Manufacturing accounts for 27% of Goa's domestic product. In economic weight, the 'transport, storage and communications' category comes next, with 12.9%, and 'trade, hotels and restaurants' is third with close to 11.8%. It is the sector which soaks up the most available employment. Mining accounts for 4.2% and agriculture 5.6%.

Over the last three years, evidence has mounted to support the observation that Goa's MLAs, if not the administration, are actively discouraging agriculture in the state (contrary to former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane's claims at the 52nd meeting of the National Development Council). Goa's elected representatives appear to be following a systematic programme to ensure that agriculture remains non-remunerative and, where possible, to destroy it entirely.

Ganesh Kubal of the Farmers' Agro-Industrial Association, Krishna Mayenkar of Shetkari Aghadi and Atmaram Naik of Nagrik Kriti Samiti -- together representing several thousand agriculture-based households in Goa -- have described how farmers are being squeezed out of the economy. The strangulation of agriculture is a largely hidden struggle in Goa, although, in February 2007, a group of farmers from the agricultural belt to the north of Madgaon city came together to oppose the state government's arbitrary acquisition of their land.

Goa was given statehood and an Assembly of 40 MLAs in 1987. It was thought then that careful and progressive socio-economic planning for its two districts could set an example for India. The warning signs came soon after with data from the 1991 census: Goa's key coastal talukas of Mormugao, Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete were fast urbanising. The 2001 census showed a strengthening of that trend with these talukas displaying urban population ratios of 83%, 65%, 58% and 57% respectively. That urbanisation was built upon the Portuguese colonial infrastructure and planning logic. Of greater concern to the new state should have been new urbanising zones and the attendant impact on its rural populations.

Today, the taluka of Ponda has seen its urban population rise by an astonishing 231%, between the two censuses of 1991 and 2001; in terms of impact this is followed by a rise of 83% in urban population for the taluka of Bicholim. In both cases, the rural populations have diminished substantially, with Ponda recording a drop of 11.2% and Bicholim a heavy 16.6% decline.

The effect of the drain on rural populations in Goa as shown by the census data for Ponda and Bicholim derails the development logic presented in the one plan that really counted for Goa, the 2001 plan. That saw Ponda and Bicholim as containing 15,600 and 17,200 hectares respectively of land (by the end of the 1986-2001 plan period) to be used for cultivating rice, vegetables and horticultural crops such as cashew, areca nut, coconut and spices. In 2005-06, according to the government's data, the total area recorded as being used for agriculture and horticulture in Ponda was around 12,100 hectares (22% less than required), while Bicholim had recorded 12,500 hectares (27% less). Where has the land gone? To fulfil the orchestrated demand (see Table 1).

Table 1

Taluka

Settlement area in draft Regional Plan 2011

Settlement area in final Regional Plan 2011

Increase in settlement area

Percent increase

Mormugao

1,160

1,380

220

18.97

Tiswadi

3,133

4,228

1,095

34.95

Bardez

5,503

6,448

945

17.17

Salcete

9,250

9,950

700

7.57

Quepem

1,685

2,435

750

44.51

Bicholim

1,361

2,291

930

68.33

Ponda

2,870

3,525

655

22.82

Canacona

1,075

1,760

685

63.72

Sanguem

1,323

1,323

0

0.00

Sattari

835

1,190

355

42.51

Pednem

1,948

2,868

920

47.23

Total

30,143

37,398

7,255

24.07

Source: Author with independent assessments

The emergence, in late-2006, of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, an informal umbrella group that brought together voluntary organisations to combat the Regional Plan 2011, saw grassroots problems being taken to the public -- urban and village -- using carefully planned educational exhibitions. But for the Abhiyan and its constituents, the rural context within which dispossession of land has taken place, and the threat to Goa's agricultural traditions are problems still to be articulated.(seeTable 2)

Table 2

Goa -- agricultural landholdings

Size in hectares

Number of holdings

Total area of holdings

Below 0.5

37,688

8,042.64

0.5-1

13,266

8,544.14

1-2

6,576

8,296.18

2-3

2,330

5,299.20

3-4

862

2,854.64

4-5

558

2,399.98

5-7.5

658

3,810.60

7.5-10

242

2,017.16

10-20

328

4,197.20

20 and over

186

8,030.04

Total

62,694

53,491.78

Source: Agricultural census 2001

The skewed development that has been allowed to flourish can be seen by examining human development indicators. Why are only six out of 10 women in the talukas of Sattari, Sanguem, Canacona (all ghat talukas) and Quepem (midland taluka) literate, as compared with eight out of 10 in Bardez and Tiswadi (coastal talukas)? The talukas of Pednem and Sattari (midland) have the least number of non-workers (1 and 1.1) to all workers -- working families there support far fewer non-workers compared with coastal talukas. The ratio in Tiswadi is 1.6, and 1.8 in Mormugao. This has implications about participation of labour and productivity in a community context, and could provide valuable knowledge to those (in government included) seeking alternatives to a real estate-led model of (mis)development.

 

 

Alternatives and options had been identified early. Goa's first regional plan was prepared directly by the town and country planning department, and not outsourced at huge cost and with no understanding of the local context to a New Delhi-based consultant, as was done with the discredited and withdrawn Regional Plan 2011. That plan for the period 1986-2001 sought to provide the new state (Goa was a union territory until 1986) a land use logic defined as "development of land and land resources connected to each other by strong physical and socio-economic linkages".

"Due to the geo-political forces of the past," the 2001 regional plan observed, "and mainly due to the tremendous boom in economic activities in the post-liberation (1961) period, the level of development of the coastal talukas has been disproportionately much higher than that of the midland and the Western Ghat talukas." Thus, the long-term trends that would develop into the real estate surge of 2003 onwards were noted then, almost 20 years ago.

In the meantime, the governance of Goa was abandoned to the fates. "To explain this instability brought about by politicians regularly shifting sides in Goa for the last 18 years," wrote Peter Ronald de Souza, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, in July, in The Indian Express, "we need to recognise that politics today provides the biggest opportunity for rent-taking, to a rising class. Democracy creates a new class of political entrepreneurs for whom rent-taking becomes possible."

Even so, in the June 2, 2007, Assembly elections, Goans signalled their dissatisfaction with the political system in 12 constituencies (out of 40) by significantly (though not conclusively) supporting independent candidates and regional parties with local manifestos. For this expression to be translated into a state-wide reform movement, civil society in Goa must be institutionalised, and there lies the challenge for an educated and literate population for which, all said and done, a forested hill is still a powerful symbol of identity.

Families and their lands: Two village views

● Jerome Andrade is a young man of about 27 who lives with his extended family in the village of Merces, about 3 km from the city limits of Panaji. Merces, like a half-dozen villages neighbouring it, is fulfilling the demand for land arising from the scarcity in Panaji, the result being that those families with houses and several sources of income resist the continuous pressure from real estate developers to sell their housing plots and adjacent agricultural land.

From Jerome's description, the Andrades seem to be reaching the end of their resistance. Jerome said he dropped out of college to earn his own living as he wanted to marry (his wife works in the UAE). Today he cobbles together an uncertain income by renting out several scooters and motorcycles, and one second-hand car, to tourists and visitors.

This is a popular but unorganised business amongst the youth in Goa, and exists because of the tourist traffic (public transport systems in Goa are skeletal, overburdened and unreliable) and casual visitors to the state. Jerome estimates his income as being between Rs 9,000 and 15,000 a month although from that he must provide for police and road transport authority fines and maintenance.

Jerome's brother, Savio, works part-time with a restaurant and otherwise helps his brother run the two-wheeler rental business, which is entirely informal all over the state. Neither has any interest in any agriculture-related livelihood option from the paddy fields they own, and Jerome said these have remained uncultivated for more than five years. "Who will go to the fields," he asked.

When I asked him what the family survives on, Jerome counted his and his brother's earnings, his uncle's pension, erratic remittances from a third brother in the Gulf, and the periodic sale of agricultural property as the sources. Unable to find support from within his family or outside to either complete his education or pursue formal training perhaps related to his current occupation, Jerome feels trapped by his circumstances. "What else to do? Otherwise we'll have to sell the house; my mother is already saying so."

Neither Jerome nor Savio have so far been recruited by MLAs in the region to serve as part of the new, youthful and mobile lumpen proletariat whose activities range from petty extortion to drug dealing and land evictions. The same youth serve during election time -- and in Goa this comes frequently -- as campaign workers and rowdies-on-call. The brothers retain a sense of family and village identity whose strength has so far countered the methods of the MLAs. But that is as long as this shaky business is able to deliver a monthly income.

● Vikas Prabhudesai is in his mid-40s and has spent 20 years working in Goa's mid-range hospitality sector. A soft-spoken man who lives with his wife and three-year-old son in the built-up area known as Porvorim, which is Panaji's biggest suburb, Prabhudesai is a native of Canacona. This southern-most taluka of Goa is the least populated of the state's 11 talukas, although with about 44,000 residents contained in seven villages and one urban settlement, its urbanisation ratio is 27%, the highest amongst Goa's less developed talukas.

Once known for its lush orchards, forested groves maintained by ancient temple trusts and the species diversity of the Cotigao wildlife sanctuary, Canacona today is considered lucrative real estate when developed tomorrow. The luxurious Inter-Continental sited there - Goa's newest five-star hotel -- has contributed to the rising property attractiveness of this once-remote taluka. Estimates from several sources indicate that over 150 hectares of land that is state forest, privately-owned forest, or natural cover have been sold in Canacona.

"Who would have thought that land which we considered unwanted during my mother's time is now being grabbed by everyone," says Prabhudesai. He spoke of a period, until the mid-'90s, when Canacona was entirely agrarian, and the urban systems of Panaji and even Madgaon (the south Goa district headquarters) were as if a world away. Those wanting careers other than agriculture migrated north within Goa; Prabhudesai and his family did so too, choosing to settle in Panaji. For him, 'home' was a charming but impractical house in a part of Goa made more distant because of its economic isolation.

No longer. Prabhudesai is amazed that a New Delhi-based company, Goa Resorts and Hotels Private Limited, is reported as having bought over 100 hectares of forested land intending to convert it into a settlement zone that could, if and when developed, return tens of crores. Today, he says, the region in which his ancestral home lies is "lost". This huge parcel of forest land was allegedly sold by a company linked to former Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane's son (an MLA in the current Assembly). Prabhudesai suspects state complicity in such large-scale acquisition: "Locals selling their small holdings could definitely not provide this much land."

(Rahul Goswami is an independent journalist and researcher based in Goa.)

InfoChange News & Features, April 2008