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Master Plans

A logged tree at a construction site in Porvorim

Saving Goa or All Talk?

MP can mean a lot of things. Member of Parliament. Manohar Parrikar. But in Goa for the past 20 months, symptoms it mostly means ‘Master Plan’.

If you’re like a lot of people, the minute you hear the very words, a surge of scepticism may rise within your soul. Is the state really getting serious about developing the necessary infrastructure to keep pace with Goa’s rapid development? Or is all the talk about Master Plans just that – talk?

Ever since the BJP government came into power in Goa more than a year and half ago, Master Plans have been the thrust of the new government. There is the Calangute Master Plan, the Panjim Master Plan, the Tourism Master Plan as well as several other Master Plans for towns around the state.

Given Goa’s history of ill-fated governmental initiatives, it’s only natural that folks would be asking themselves if these Master Plans are actually meant to free Goa from the scourge of haphazard development or merely the latest in a string of corruption-riddled gimmicks designed to make money.

“Nobody doubts that Goa needs planned development. Permissions for more and more complexes are being given left right and centre even as roads continue to remain the same width, sewerage facilities are non existent, there is no place for parking, etc. And yet the rigmarole continues,” João Pereira, a vociferous campaigner against the state’s Town and Country Planning Department, which he says does its planning “without applying its mind.”

“But we do not want the government to be parcelling out land to large real estate and hospitality chains companies in the name of planning,” he adds.

The government is asking Goans to suspend disbelief and accept its assurances that, unlike in past years, officials are actually serious this time about turning the tide and catapulting Goa into the 21st century. And in fact some roads, especially in the tourist belts, are being widened and some infrastructure is being built, providing hope that change might just be on the way.

Still, with groves giving way to concrete development and with shacks, tea stalls and houses all jostling for the same space in Goa’s urbanized villages with no rhyme nor scheme, locals fear that the very character that drew tourists and others here will no longer exist.

“Goa should learn a thing or two from Brazil, Rio de Janeiro in particular. They have beaches, they have hotels and buildings and it all is planned, neat and clean. Contrast that with Calangute and Panjim. It’s the personification of narrow roads, traffic congestion, garbage and problems and the like,” said Melissa Gonsalves, a resident of Goa who recently visited Brazil.

For its part, the government has put its weight behind three Master Plans – Imagine Panjim,  a holistic plan for the capital and the surrounding areas, as well as a Tourism Master Plan and one that involves the redevelopment of Calangute village.

The Panjim Master Plan envisages new parking lots, a hop-on-hop-off bus system, pedestrian friendly streets and a means of decongesting the city, in addition to other tourism friendly infrastructure. The plan has been presented to the city’s business elite, who have greeted it warmly. The tourism plan is still in the making, while the redevelopment of Calangute has already begun. Other plans are yet to be commissioned.

Two plans which had made a big splash in the previous government before running aground have now been conveniently forgotten.

The Old Goa Master Plan, carefully allocating space for parking, amenities and open spaces has somehow disappeared into the ether.

Word on the street is that the plan was scuttled because a local politician’s real estate’s interests were threatened. The current government’s inaction has only helped further that impression.

The less said about the Goa Regional Plan 2021 the better. That’s because it appears to be all but dead in the water. Critics complain of what they call ‘case-by-case’ governance where decisions about urban projects are taken arbitrarily without a set framework.

Among those most infuriated is the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, which lobbied to scrap a previous Regional Plan they said violated the need for carefully planned, sustainable development.

“There is no consideration for Goa’s character, carrying capacity or existing infrastructure. Such a system breeds corruption and is no doubt what the government would favour,” said Sabina Martins, Convenor of the GBA.

One clear indication that the GBA and its sympathizers have a point is the fact that the Bombay High Court at Goa has had to direct the government to warn the Town and Country Planning Department about irregularities. The department, the court said, must not grant permissions unless officers carry out physical verification of a plot, especially when it comes to slope gradient and road access. There’s little doubt permissions are being dished out in violation of the laws.

Is it any wonder that we end up with the kind of traffic jam that clogs the Calangute-Baga road? Will this one day be the norm even in interior villages? Is it already too late?