Is Goa’s reputation slipping?
Goa, the place that I know it, is a beautiful and unique place where we live in harmony with nature. It has a long coastline, many rivers, fertile plains and green fields. This beautiful idyllic place is interspersed with Portuguese churches and Hindu temples. It was a place where I always found time to stand still, my stresses forgotten and my energies restored.
Yet now, when I return to Goa, I find these important characteristics slowly disappearing. A place rich in history and beauty is slowly being eroded with commercialization, rampant and indiscriminate destruction of our agrarian culture along with poor infrastructure planning.
If you don’t believe me, check out the area around Panjim. On entering the city you see these monstrous casinos with their garish lights lined up along the beautiful Mandovi like eye sores.
They hit you in the face and blind you to the rest of Goa. The defence ministry is the largest landowner in the state, it also occupies warehouses in the city which they use as a maintenance facility for their vehicles. Much of all this space is now prime real estate. The defence certainly does not require prime land in cities. These military stations are aloof from the general population, as they do not interact with citizens and are like a hole in the city.
The quaint Portuguese buildings that once was the pride and recognition of the state are left to rot; some even brazenly razed to the ground to make way for newer bigger and shinier replacements. All this has been done in the name of development which has been taking place haphazardly.
Our fields are being snatched away to make way for wider roads, new buildings and fancy shopping malls. Whenever there is development, it is inevitable that there will be “progress” and change. But this needs to be planned keeping in mind the requirements of growth as well as the population needs.
For years Goa has been one of the top destinations on the world’s tourism list. People all over the world know Goa for its sun, sand, beaches and relaxed lifestyle. Loads of charter tourists have graced our shores for decades. In the more recent past, our own domestic Indian tourists have discovered us – for weekends, longer breaks, during the monsoons, Christmas and New Year and during the music and film festivals.
But I have noticed that Goa’s reputation is slipping. We seem to be a place where one can park their morality outside the state and indulge in earthly pleasures – gambling, alcohol, drugs, women. Furthermore, we seem to be slowly losing our soul and through that the core of what I believe Goa stands for.
Of course, can this be contained, reversed, re-imagined. Yes, definitely and we should make every effort to reflect and act in the interest of our current and future generations.
We had a good opportunity to get ‘Smart ‘ through the Government’s Smart City programme. But we could not qualify in the first round of selection as the bid had many shortcomings. The specific gaps pointed were lack of quantified service indicators, justification of urban design, lack of detailing, inclusiveness etc. But we still have time to rectify this and have a second chance of being shortlisted in ‘fast track’ list. Should we get the opportunity to do so then we should use it to define what we want for Goa and her people.
Design a state that we would love to live, work and play in. A state that is sustainable, environmentally friendly and provides safety, security for its people. A state where everyone can co-exist irrespective of gender, religion, ethnicity and ability. A state which provides adequate opportunities for its people to find work, thrive in it and choose their careers. A state where children and youth have opportunities to pursue quality education of their choice and where everyone has access to quality medical facilities.
There has to be planned spaces for parks, housing, retail and culture. Our cities need to have proper pedestrian corridors, walkway-cum recreational spaces and cycle tracks. We need to push for pedestrianisation which will in the long term help traffic evaporation. We need urban planners and the government to take into account the needs and views of the people and provide for growth, opportunity and sustainability. A transformational process needs to be created. Professional planners, designers and engineers need to move beyond the institutionalized way of shaping cities. They need to adopt a holistic view so we can bid adieu to traffic congestion, parks used little by residents and institutions isolated from people. We ultimately have limited resources – be it money, natural resources or people. What we use them for, spend them on or invest them in, is determined by us and our future is dependent on it.
Worldwide, cities and countries are thinking much more inclusive, involving people in decision making and city planning. This has resulted in a much more integrated, happy and satisfied society. Ultimately the quality of life is integral to any city’s plan for the future. It is all interrelated. We are all interrelated.
(The author is the Managing Director, Aviation Travel and Tourism Services)