Wednesday, 23 November 2016

THE FACE OF ‘DEVELOPMENT’



What does ‘development’ mean to the common man? S/he generally expects that the state should provide infrastructure facilities like roads, bridges, hospitals, sports complexes, transport facilities, etc. But while asking for basic amenities is one thing, development is often used to suggest the urgent need of large-scale investments in various types of industries and projects like bridges, stadia, big hotels, etc. The latter – along with its inherent urgency – is often responsible for the destruction of communities and land. There is, therefore, a gap between what development supposedly seeks to achieve and what it eventually ends up doing.

While notions of development may have changed over the years, its core has been the same. Since the day of the establishment of the Indian state, development was linked to economic modernization. More recently this vision of ‘development’ has been augmented with plans for improved urbanization (‘Smart Cities’) and a move to increase the reach of the internet (‘Digital India’). In each of these cases the promotion of ‘development’ is seen as a solution to all, or if not, most of the problems that are faced by the society.

The tourism industry in Goa helps us to see the gap between the theoretical and practical aspects of development. Land and community resources were used in this development, ostensibly, for the betterment of the same land and community that provided the resources. However, this has not been the case with the way the tourism industry has developed. Considering the present situation of the tourism industry, and in view of the fact that the government commissioned a new Master Plan for tourism this year, re-visiting some older blueprints for tourism development such as the ‘Master Plan for Tourism Development in Goa, July 1987’ (MP 1987) that initiated the massive tourism development, leaves little doubt that we need to urgently re-think how community and land resources should be used.

According to MP 1987, the travel industry was growing rapidly and there was a need to catch up with it since Goa could not be “immune” to such a global economic trend. MP 1987 sought to promote tourism, but it had also noted the problems attendant with the tourism industry. It recognized that the “management of tourism is a very complex task. It makes enormous demands on the resources of the place, natural and man-made”. MP 1987 was not in favor of “sacrificing the quality of the local environment” to make quick profit. The destruction of the environment could also lead to the loss of the “cultural mooring” of the local society, the report had warned.

The authors of MP 1987 had also conducted a sample survey of the Calangute-Candolim beach belt, to get a sense of the problems that these areas faced. Even before the advent of large-scale development, the survey revealed a proliferation of unauthorized construction activity, with the commercial activity encroaching on the roads due to a lack of space. The lack of space was leading to traffic congestion. Shortage of drinking water, absence of garbage and sewage management, drug trafficking, prostitution, and high land prices were the other problems identified by MP 1987. The survey also found that tourism development had bred conflict between traditional occupations, like fishing and agriculture, and tourism-related activities. This resulted in social and economic imbalances in the village economy, the report added.

To avoid any adverse effects of tourism development, MP 1987 suggested that it was important to “arrive at a volume of tourism which will bring optimum benefit” to the local people and the national economy. However, the report had admitted, in earnest, that there were “no standards available” to determine the volume of tourists that Goa could handle. Perhaps this might very well be the case as one can observe a contradictory logic running through the report: there are recommendations made for the increase of infrastructure to accommodate the increasing influx of tourists despite the fact that MP 1987 recognized that the carrying capacity of a small place like Goa was limited.

Nearly thirty years later, the Government of Goa has commissioned another Master Plan for tourism. R. Benedito Ferrão recently wrote about this Master Plan and argued that while the Master Plan made suggestions about protecting the environment and involving local Goans, there was precious little said on how exactly to do this. Further, this most recent Master Plan envisaged the role of Goans as only service-providers, and not as stakeholders. This appears to be quite similar to the vision of the MP 1987. While the initial Master Plan was prepared by the government, the recent one was drawn by a MNC. If at all anything has changed it is the shift towards opening of the economy for corporate or private exploitation.

This should force us to recognize that the language and practice of development is marked by a one-way power relation wherein communities – often marginalized – have to bear most of the brunt. While at least the Master Plans of 1987 and 2016 made the effort (or is it pretence?) of involving Goans to benefit from tourism development, other instances such as the often violent and cunning manner in which communities are dispossessed of their lands – in Tiracol, Betul, Loliem, and Mopa – shows us the blatantly brute power of actual ‘development’, as opposed to the subtle variants of the tourism Master Plans.

Rather than the emphasis on development, the importance and utility of public amenities, such as roads, bridges, hospitals for community use, need to be highlighted. The ambiguous language and practice of development needs to be replaced with a concrete vision that keeps marginalized communities and the environment safe.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 23 November, 2016)

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