MARGAO: Sao Jose de Areal gram sabha on Sunday rejected the notification issued by the department of revenue declaring the village as “Urban Area” and unanimously resolved to remain as a ‘rural area’ in order to protect the interests of the people of the village and the nation.
The gram sabha further resolved that the village panchayat should forward the resolution to the State government urging them to immediately drop the subject notification and to retain all the villages in the list as ‘rural areas’.
The gram sabha members discussed in detail the notification declaring Sao Jose de Areal village as an “Urban Area” and stated that the reclassification from rural to urban will have implications on the economic and ecological balance of the village and the State. The “urban areas” will eventually be planned under ODPs (outline development plans), where the planning is with focus on commercial zones, high-rise buildings, parking spaces, etc and not on sustainable development.
Presently, the villages are planned under the Regional Plan for sustainable development and the protection of the rights of the local communities, agriculture, water and natural resources, which will no longer be the case if the village is treated as an urban area.
The gram sabha member pointed out that entire Goa was suffering severely due to loss of critical resources and its natural beauty. Urbanisation, mining and industrialisation had led to loss of water aquifers, forests and water recharge areas across the State. The resultant collapse of water resources from abundant to extremely scarce had led to over-dependence on neighbouring water-starved States for the water needed for our survival.
"We are now staring at severe water wars with our neighbours in the future, bringing our very existence under threat. Similarly, the pollution of our land and water resources due to sewage, garbage and lethal poisons from our urban areas is killing not just the land, flora and fauna, but threatens us humans too. The huge drop in tourism in the past few years also indicates that even the tourists are turned off by the urbanisation of Goa. More importantly, the food security of a State is its greatest strength, but presently most of our food comes from outside the State, primarily due to apathy of the government and its ill-advised, single-minded pursuit of urbanisation. It is most important that now, however late it may seem, the policies of State are corrected to ensure that villages are fully conserved and empowered and that urbanisation is stopped and reversed," the gram sabha members said.
The classification of villages cannot be changed to ‘urban areas’ without the informed consent of the indigenous communities that live in these villages. Sao Jose de Areal has a majority of tribal and other indigenous residents, but is at the receiving end of massive destruction due to mining, industries, speculation with lands and infrastructure projects, against which the village is struggling. The cultural and socio-economic wealth of the village must be protected, which can only happen if the village is maintained as a rural area, the villagers stated.
The meeting further stated that shift to urban means not just lesser environmental protection and more construction, but also lesser livelihood security for traditional users and the death of communities and culture.
Once the Land Revenue Code notifies the village as ‘urban area’, the transition from a village panchayat to a municipality is just a matter of time, meaning the loss of grassroots democracy and governance.