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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Goa’s unique democratic exercise

I was talking to a villager about how I was so impressed with the ParticipatoryProcess of the Regional Plan 2021 (RP2021). “If it works as it is supposed to, and if the original sections 16 and 16A of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 are restored, then we have to thank the Goa Bachao Abhiyan for waking the ordinary Goan and giving him a voice,” I said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said the villager. “The Regional Plan draft is ready and the gram sabhas cannot understand anything about it. The maps have colours everywhere and when we asked for explanation one official told us the ink must have spilled. The Town and Country Planning people have to come to our village and explain it to us.”
“What’s to explain,” I said. “You just have to check the maps and see if the different zones marked there are correct.”
“There’s too many different colours; it looks like my nephew’s colouring when he’s in a bad mood,” he said.
“What is most exciting is the questionnaire,” I said. “It gives everyone in the state a chance to decide what he or she wants for their village and its surroundings. That’s the high road to comprehensive democracy.”
“You mean the form. We can’t understand it,” he said.
“So the Taluka Level Technical Team (TLTT) will be on hand to explain things to you,” I said.
“We have problems just getting to meet the BDO, you think we’ll get to talk to the TLTT? How will they be able to visit and spend time with each problem in each village of the taluka in 45 days? We need six months,” he said.
“They are very simple questions like what is your village is famous for, are you happy with the zoning, infrastructure details. They even ask you to tell them if the map is wrong,” I said.
“And then what happens? They file it all and forget about it,” he said,
“All the answers are sorted out and the answers are tallied on every point,” I said. “Then a village committee which has been elected from the gram sabha will check all the answers of all the residents and if the larger number has voted for a change or against it, the committee will write it in their final form.”
“We are still putting our committee together and we are all fighting,” he said. “The Pilerne gram sabha was not allowed to select even one person. The sarpanch just made a list of his friends, read out the names and went off.”
“So they have to lodge a complaint with the BDO or the TLTT,” I said.
“Why go through all that headache? Who got da time?” he said.
“Make the time, this is a great and unique thing,” I said.
“You say unique,” he said. “I say it’s just goofing off. Anyway with Christmas and New Year coming up, who’s got the time to waste on filling questionnaires? They have to give us more time.”
“They said they would, the village committee just had to apply for more time,” I said.
“And how would we select a village committee?” he asked. “It’s so difficult to get anyone to do anything in the village. All are saying they’re busy. Only the drunkards volunteer for everything.”
“You will have to select professionals from the village who will be able to study the Plan; then the committee will have to go from door to door to make sure everyone fills the questionnaire,” I said.
“It just seems like too much trouble,” he said, “it is much simpler to just go on protest marches and gherao people. At least we get TV coverage.”
“This is collective responsibility,” I said. “It is genuine democracy allowing each individual to place his wishes on record. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, saying it is too much trouble.”
“Okay, so if we fill the questionnaire, then will our wishes for our village be accepted?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, “Provided the government does not evoke Sections 16 and 16 A of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act. Under these sections the government can set aside the Regional Plan for any project they feel like undertaking, even in areas like fields, khazan lands, heritage and CRZ areas.”
“So what’s the use?” he asked.
“You get a chance to continue going on protest marches and gheraoing officials,” I said.

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