Residents of about 22 villages in North Goa have risen up against the state government’s decision to put their villages under the jurisdiction of Goa’s controversial Planning and Development Authorities. This will put the villages on the fast-track to unnecessary urbanisation, they say, dealing a death blow to their way of life.
On December 21, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition ruling Goa issued a notification incorporating 16 villages from Tiswadi taluk, around state capital Panjim, into the newly-created Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority. In neighbouring Bardez taluk, the villages of Arpora, Nagao and Parra were amalgamated into the North Goa Planning and Development Authority, from where the Greater Panjim body was carved out. The North Goa body already covers the tourism hubs of Calangute, Candolim and Baga.
Since then, village residents have held a series of protests, public meetings and gram sabhas or village councils. Villagers note that areas under Planning and Development Authorities are permitted a much higher floor area ratio than that allowed in villages, which will lead to tall buildings sprouting up everywhere, increasing congestion in spaces that are not designed to take high population loads. The floor area ratio or FAR determines a building’s total floor area in relation to the the size of the plot it stands on. The higher the floor area ratio, the taller the building.
Sitaram Kunkolkar, from Chimbel village, 6 km east of Panjim, said that in his tribal village of 14,000 people, the village panchayat can sanction a FAR of upto 80. “FARs in PDA [Planning and Development Authority] areas are three times more, upto 200 and 250,” he said. “It will completely finish off what is left of our fields, hills and orchards. Chimbel, as we know it, will disappear.”
However, Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardessai, who heads the Goa Forward Party that is part of the ruling alliance, has attempted to stand his ground, saying vertical growth is inevitable in Goa.
Planning and Development Authorities were first created in Goa in the 1970s. They have to prepare comprehensive development plans for their notified designated planning areas. They demarcate residential, commercial and industrial zones and decide on the location, height, and size of buildings and open spaces in its jurisdiction. They also issue permissions for all this.
Because of their sweeping powers over land use, membership to the Planning and Development Authorities became coveted – second only to positions in the state cabinet. They are usually headed by political appointees.
“The outline development plans slowly became instruments to increase the built-up area of plots in these towns regardless of the surroundings,” said architect and environmental activist Dean D’Cruz.
The 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Constitution in 1992 granted powers of planning to municipalities and panchayats, which must be assisted by the Town and Country Planning Department. But the Goa government never devolved planning powers to the elected bodies, continuing with the centralised Planning and Development Authorities. D’Cruz and other activists say this is unconstitutional. Currently, there are five such bodies notified in Goa to accommodate the political compulsions of the coalition government.
Angry opposition to plan
The Kunbi-dominated village of Chimbel is about 4.2 sq km in area, and supplies vegetables to Panjim’s markets. It has been included in the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority since it is adjacent to the panoramic Kadamba plateau, a rapidly developing residential suburb. Some of Goa’s biggest construction firms have sprawling luxury residential projects on the plateau, where a low floor area ratio so far has kept the area relatively low-rise and open. Chimbel’s inclusion in the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority could potentially triple the floor area ratio, allow high rises and increase real estate value in the entire area – a bonanza for realtors, builders and property owners.
The original inhabitants of villages like this feel they will be culturally and demographically obliterated by such development. “We will be completely swamped, our small heritage houses surrounded by high-rises, like in the cities, and we will be forced to sell to builders eventually,” said Roshan Mathais of Candolim. He said this will certainly affect tourism as holiday goers will not be interested in visiting a replica of Mumbai in Goa.
In the five tribal villages included in the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority, there is simmering anger. “The government wants to develop the land, but they are giving it to other people,” Rupesh Velip, the general secretary of the Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Federation of Goan tribal communities, told reporters. “Give it to us tribal youth, we will farm it.” The Gawda, Kunbi and Velip tribals are considered to be the original inhabitants of the Konkan coast.
‘No justification for move’
The protests have picked up since January, with villagers demanding Gram Sabha meetings, several of which have erupted in protests.
Santacruz, a village 2 km outside Panjim, was one of the first to object. At a Gram Sabha held in mid-December, the villagers passed a resolution opposing their inclusion in the Planning and Development Authority. Citizens subsequently forced Santacruz Congress legislator Antonio Fernandes to resign from the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority on February 18.
On March 7, St Andre village, also near Panjim, forced their Congress MLA Francisco Silveira to resign from the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority.
Further north, a gram sabha held in Parra village earlier in the first week of March, saw angry scenes, before it was disrupted, with the police called in. “We are just 5,000 people in our village,” said Parra resident Benedict D’Souza. “Even 10 years from now, a 20% increase in population hardly merits a PDA [Planning and Development Authority]. The village panchayat functions best.”
In November, some elected municipal councillors and the mayor of Panjim moved the High Court, when the North Goa Planning and Development Authority prepared an Outline Development Plan without consulting it, raising the floor area ratio to 300 for special commercial zones in the city. “They were giving 300 FAR [Floor Area Ratio] for 500 sqm plots where there was no space to even turn a car around to park it”, said Reboni Saha, general secretary of the Goa Bachao Andolan.
The scattered village-level protests are now converging around the demand to scrap Planning and Development Authorities altogether. “The PDAs [Planning and Development Authorities] have morphed into a Frankenstein,” Saha told Scroll.in. “It is utterly, utterly unconstitutional and we have challenged it in court.”
With protests increasing, Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardessai is attempting to hold his ground, saying that vertical growth is inevitable. He said in February that if the government would be able to protect eco-sensitive brackish khazan lands, low-lying paddy fields and hill slopes, “only if you allow certain areas to have vertical growth much above the permitted limits now”.
Still, heeding the groundswell of protests, Sardesai, on March 22 agreed to remove two villages from the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority, and said requests from additional villages would be examined.
It is unlikely that the village residents will accept half measures. They have said they want all the villages in the December 21 notification out of the Planning and Development Authority, or are likely to step up protests in April.