Transcript: The Great Goa Land Grab

Great Goa Land Grab Complete

Intro [00:00:02]

This is the Nordic Asia podcast.

Arve Hansen [00:00:10]

Welcome to the Nordic Asia Podcast, a collaboration sharing expertise in Asia across the Nordic region. My name is Arve Hansen and I'm a researcher at Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo and one of the leaders of the Norwegian Network for Asian Studies. In this episode, we discuss a brand new book on land dispossession in India. It's titled The Great Goa Land Grab and offers an account of how shifting state governments, politicians and corporations have acquired large tracts of land in the small coastal state of Goa for a wide range of so-called development projects in the form of industrial enclaves, infrastructure, mining and much more. Projects that have, as a rule, caused much environmental and social injustice. In this sense. What has happened in Goa in terms of land grabbing over the past few decades, represents almost a microcosm of what has happened in India in general and in many countries across the so-called global South, where land has changed hands on a large scale. To tell us more about this book and about the great Goa land grab. We are joined by the authors, Solana da Silva, assistant professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bits Pilani in Goa. Heather Plumridge Bedi, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Dickinson College in the US, and Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo in Norway, and also one of the regular hosts of this podcast. With us is also the publisher of the book, Frederick Noronha from the Press Goa 1556. I daresay the leading publisher of books on Goa. Welcome to all of you and thank you for joining our podcast. Heather, the great Goa Land Grab that is the title of your book. What do you mean by this?

Heather Plumridge Bedi [00:01:55]

Thank you so much. I really want to start before answering your question that it's a great honor to speak with you in your audience today. It's also a pleasure to share this work, which really emanates from our individual research over the last 14 years in Goa. This work would not be possible without all the Goans supporting the research, including the 140 Goans Interviewed for my related doctoral research with their insights, Solano, Kenneth and I began to see land grabbing patterns throughout Goa. Land grabbing is a global phenomenon, as you noted, where governments, in many cases in concert with private corporations, acquire or appropriate vast tracts of land for a range of projects from industrial enclaves to real estate projects. And notably in my emerging research in southern India for large scale solar energy projects. And this is really one to watch out for as India strives to meet its climate goals. These are problematic as the land is grabbed, in many cases from people directly dependent on the land for their daily subsistence. We decided that the Great Goa Land Grab reflects the mass transfer of land in Goa for a range of commercial purposes, despite widespread public opposition to the loss of land.

Arve Hansen [00:03:14]

And it is a very interesting read, I must say. Kenneth, when we prepared for this episode, you mentioned on more than one occasion that putting this book together was a labor love. Why has this book been especially important to you?

Kenneth Bo Nielsen [00:03:26]

There's a whole bunch of reasons why I've loved working on this book. I guess the idea for it came one day when I was looking at the different things that Heather and Solano and myself had written about various aspects of the land grab debate in Goa over the years. Some things individually, but also a few things in collaboration. And it struck me that that was actually quite a lot between us. We had produced a good amount of output on this phenomenon. So I thought in a sense, well, wait a minute, we might actually have enough to make a book out of all of this. And of course, I mean, another key reason was that Heather and Solano are two people that I really enjoy working with and also doing a book with them I thought would just be a great experience simply. But then we started thinking about what kind of book this might potentially be in here. I think one of the great paradoxes about academia in a sense, began to set in all of us, not just the ones who are doing this episode today, but people in academia in general. Many of us, we work on issues that I would call socially important in one way or another and land grabbing or land dispossession that we write about and that we've seen not just in Goa, but as you mentioned, in India and the Global South more generally is typically a way of redistributing land and wealth upwards, something that leads to greater social inequality and often also erodes environmental justice. So while we may not do activist research, I think we are certainly many of us committed to what we in my discipline would maybe call a kind of public anthropology or engaged anthropology, as the anthropologist Stuart Kirsch has called it, where we engage with the problems of the world, to put it very simply. But then when we write academically about these problems of the world that he calls it, we sometimes do it in a prose that makes little sense to people out there, perhaps. But more importantly, I think we are largely expected to write in academic journals that hide their articles behind very expensive paywalls. And I think too often all of this means that our public anthropology actually never reaches the public to any great extent. And I've been become more concerned about this dilemma over the years. But actually it's not a dilemma. I think it's an unacceptable situation, to be honest. So I think the three of us were in agreement from the start that we should find a way of ensuring that this book would first of all be available to a Goan public. And of course, we all knew Goa 1556, Fredericks Press that you mentioned and we talked about earlier, and he was by far our first choice for a local publisher. And he said yes when we asked him. So all of this in a sense, working with Fred, with Solano, with Heather and having the chance to put something together for a larger public, I think was a big motivation for me from the very beginning.

Arve Hansen [00:06:17]

Thanks for letting us in on your motivation for writing the book. And Fred, if you look at this from the publisher side of things, why did you find the book to be a good match for your press?

Fredrick Noronha [00:06:28]

I think it contains a whole wide range of papers dealing with a range of issues which are very important to go light, right from particular issues like the recall to the Aids and coal and a whole lot of things that help us to understand the context very well, which we would have not been able to. Had we not seen this side of the picture. So I think it's a useful compilation with a whole lot of useful essays and insights. And of course we love to publish non-fiction, so it fits well.

Arve Hansen [00:06:58]

And land grabbing. That's a dramatic term. It's one that evokes images of theft and violence, of bouncers and bulldozers forcing people off the land. And that is very much part of the story you're telling, of course. But what struck me about the book is the amount of attention that you give to paperwork, to laws and legislation and to land use, planning and land regulations as part of this. As you write, land laws and land use planning in particular have been crucial in driving both land commodification and land dispossession. Solano da Silva, why is land use planning such a crucial domain in the great Goan land grab?

Solano da Silva [00:07:35]

Thank you. Well, this is a really huge question that requires a long answer. You are right that our research has sought to demonstrate the rather insidious processes through which state policy facilitates commodification and the grabbing of land. Now, in order to understand this, one needs to grasp the geographical and economic context of post-colonial Goa that has both, on the one hand necessitated land use planning and on the other hand driven economic and political actors to circumvent these regulations. Now, Goa, India's smallest state, comprising just about 3700km², and it underwent a rapid economic transformation following its liberation from Portuguese colonialism in 1961. It changed from a predominantly agrarian economy to one where tourism, real estate, mining and industry are leading growth engines for the Goa is one of India's richest states with a high state gross domestic product and receives substantial remittances from its large international diaspora. These are the main economic drivers of land use change in Goa. Further, there is a perceptible geographical distribution of these different economic activities. On the coast, for instance, tourism and real estate is where this activity is largely concentrated, which is also the highly urbanized part of Goa. Following this, as you move away from the coast, Goa are following Goa's integration with the Indian Union. As various state governments have pursued industrialization, they have set up industrial estates which are located in the Midlands. And finally, mining, which is dependent on the location of iron ore reserves, is undertaken in the hinterland of the state. Now, many of these economic activities, real estate, tourism, mining industries, they compete with other land users, in particular agriculture and forests. Observing this intense economic pressures on a small state like Goa, the state government, as early as the 1970s, decided to initiate land use planning. A town and country planning department was set up in the 1970s and was entrusted with this task. Now the Or the Town and Country Planning Department began comprehensive spatial planning in the 1980s with three overarching goals balancing economic growth, promoting agriculture and safeguarding the environment. Now, to do this, they first prepared a socio economic plan and envisaged a desirable future for the state. They then translated that vision into a surface utilization plan or a zoning plan. More detailed zoning plans were prepared for the highly urbanizing towns in the state, and these were called outline development plans or ODB's. Now what is important is that these zoning plans corresponding to a regional plan and the road were legal documents implying that all development had to adhere to them. Over the years, there have been three regional plans. The regional Plan 2001, which was notified in 1986, the second the regional plan 2011, which was notified in 2006, and finally the regional Plan 2001, which was notified in three phases from 2010 to 2011. And alongside these regional plans, are the plans prepared for the various urban towns or roads. And there are a variety of them. Now our research has pointed out that many of these land policies, and particularly the zoning plans like the regional plans and the piece, they have reeked of controversy. Many of them have been fiercely contested by civil society actors in Goa who have alleged that the land use plans have been created to enable select private interests to convert land uses and accordingly also get the land holding to appreciate and value. They have added that such plans, if they are implemented, they will result in the degradation of the state's lush agricultural and forest landscapes, which is contrary to the stated objectives of balancing economic growth and promoting agriculture and preserving the environment. Civil society contestations have often resulted in dramatic policy reversals as well. So they've been interesting successes. For example, the withdrawal of an entire regional plan in 2007 when the regional plan 2011 was withdrawn. Then following a state wide civil society opposition were withdrawn in 2007 and in 2008, we find even more civil society opposition. And then subsequently in 2012 we had the stoppage of iron ore mining after the Goa Foundation mounted a successful legal challenge in the High Court. And there have been various legal battles that have successfully questioned many of the ODB's.

Arve Hansen [00:12:41]

Thank you, Solana. But Kenneth, you also seem to indicate that we now perhaps reached the end of the road for planning as a tool of dispossession?

Kenneth Bo Nielsen [00:12:50]

Well, yes, this is something that we discuss in the book, although it might be too early to say anything definite at this stage. The story of planning in Goa and its relationship to land, dispossession and land commodification is really tremendously complex and contradictory, as you hear from Solana's narrative just now. And none of us think that planning is going to go away at all. That's not what we're trying to say. But what we have is we have noticed in recent years the development of a new range of instruments beyond planning that also take forward these processes of dispossession and commodification of land. To give just a couple of examples of what we mean by this. In 2014, the government of Goa passed the Investment Promotion Act with the objective of kickstarting investments in the state. An Investment Promotion board was set up to make the process of investment simple and quick, and it was empowered to declare areas for so-called investment promotion as exempt from the provisions of the regional plan and its related zone regulations. So, in fact, this act is one instrument that enables the Investment Promotion Board to override all state, town and village level laws related to clearing industrial growth. There's been other laws also introduced to free land from the rules of planning and zoning. Some of these laws have pretty long and complicated names. There's one that's called the Goa Requisition and Acquisition of Property Bill from 2017, and another is the Goa compensation to the project affected persons and Vesting of Land in the Government Act, also from 2017. And looking at these laws in context, I think it's clear to us that the main reason behind these two bills that I mentioned just now is first and foremost to make land acquisitions and land transfers swifter and also cheaper and to reduce or at least partially remove many of these administrative and legal complications that often accompany land acquisitions and land transfers, including those that are embedded in the regional planning process. To put it very briefly, the two bills I mentioned just now, they seek to expand the power of the state to expropriate land and also to remove discussions of consent and participation by the people who stand to lose their land. So I think instruments like these various new laws and so on, they can be seen precisely as instruments that seek to bypass many of the provisions of the regional planning process and also to reduce the scope for popular mobilization from below to influence land use decisions in a more democratic direction. So these are some of the indications that we think point to new mechanisms for dispossession and commodification of land that have involved also alongside but beyond this planning framework.

Arve Hansen [00:15:57]

The book also has four chapters on special economic zones. I must admit, at first I found that a little odd. I thought this special economic zone model of development was long since dead and buried in India.

Heather Plumridge Bedi [00:16:09]

In the Union budget 2022 speech, the finance minister actually indicated that the 2006 Special Economic Zone Act should be replaced with something called Dish, the development of enterprise and Service hubs. Despite this potential change, I would argue that it's still relevant to examine SEZ's as they really became a new avatar to disguise land acquisition in a range of Indian states, not just go. The current dish proposal may also become a foil for further land grabs, so we must look to the past to learn from the SEZ land mistakes and avoid replication. My chapters in the volume really detail the land dispossession associated with the introduction of the SEZ model in Goa. Go and saw SEZ's as a threat to their place, people and land and responded with widespread activism, including the creation of two new social movements. Ultimately, the Goa government bowed to public pressure and halted all current and future SEZ's in the state. These quote unquote land wars reveal how the public can wield immense political power when their land and resources are threatened with unused land and limited supply not only in Goa, but across India. Governments will continue to invent ways to acquire and repurpose land for a range of commercial purposes, including in relation to what I mentioned earlier and for solar power projects. Taking the Goan experience into account, politicians, planners and private companies should listen to the will of the people in relation to land and resources. If not, they're going to see similar activism and similar responses, I would argue.

Kenneth Bo Nielsen [00:17:56]

If I can just jump in briefly here. Arve, I think I see where your question is is coming from and I guess I share your impression that we kind of thought that the special economic Zones debate was over. I deliver a lecture each fall on land grabbing, and one of the cases I've been using for a while has been the case of special economic zones in India. And I've also been thinking, Am I here really using a case from the past whose relevance is increasingly gone? But I've kind of had doubts. And I agree with Heather's assessment that this is a debate that's not over these Indian special economic zones. They were hugely controversial when they were introduced. They were strongly resisted in many places. And they became such a battleground that much of the early enthusiasm for easy sets among investors and politicians evaporated. And of course, on top of that, it's been proven time and again that these zones, they don't actually deliver what they promise in terms of jobs, infrastructure and economic activities. And I think even Unctad has now recognised this in a report they composed on sets from from 2019 where they noted, and I now quote from the report that even where zones have successfully generated investment jobs and exports, the benefits to the broader economy have often been hard to detect. Many zones operate as enclaves with few links to local suppliers and few spillovers. But in spite of this, and in spite of this being an impression of the failure of SEZ's, it's also shared by Unctad last year, I think it was that is, in 2022, we saw the emergence of a new alliance that was called the Global Alliance of SEZ 's. This is as it present itself, a global alliance of more than 7000 special economic zones spread across 145 countries, and it works to promote SC sets as a tool for reaching the goals of sustainable development. So if in the early 2000 special economic Zones in India and also elsewhere were all about jobs, exports and growth. Now these very same zones are being rebranded as being all about sustainable development. So in that sense, I think special economic zones, they may actually be back sooner than we think. But to be honest, all this talk about sustainable development in the context of special economic zones is, of course, greenwashing. The fundamental rationale of these zones hasn't changed. So if we see some kind of global comeback for SEZ's, I think it's likely that many of the conflicts that we also associate with them, they are very much likely to return as well.

Arve Hansen [00:20:37]

This is fascinating. Thank you both. And if special economic zones are coming back, like you're saying, framed now as part of sustainable development, I guess we will see this many other places as well in the future. Now, these are controversial issues and Solano, virtually all the acts of land grabbing that you analyze have been fiercely contested by goa's vibrant civil society. Fraudulent land use planning practices have been exposed and contested, as has the large scale mining that also goes on in the state and which you also briefly write about. And of course, the movement against special economic zones made national headlines years back. Looking at Goa today and perhaps also a little bit into the future. What are the major land struggles that you see on the horizon?

Solano da Silva [00:21:21]

You're right, alongside intense pressures to grab land and convert its uses and various policy maneuvers that have enabled the same. There has historically been civil society led movements in Goa that have exposed and opposed such practices. As a result, as has already been mentioned by Heather and by Kenneth. Goa has witnessed some spectacular policy reversals to the 2011 withdrawals of the mining ban and withdrawal of peace in various towns and Goa. So while policy manoeuvring has become more sophisticated, popular interest in safeguarding land has also increased and people have developed a certain literacy to read policy, to read maps, etcetera. This also has emerged, to answer your question, such long standing and concerted opposition can be potentially creative. As Heather herself was saying, first it can inspire alternative imaginations of land use, such as the kind and these have been proposed by, for example, the conservative movement. Proposed an alternative way for mining. The Charles Kuria Foundation, based in Panaji, the capital of Goa, speaks about an alternative kind of urbanisation. The proposals put forth by the government itself in when they constituted a task force that was headed by Professor Edgar Ribeiro to prepare a draft regional plan for Goa Draft 2021, have proposed alternative ways to think of land use planning. Then they have been found in academia, the writings of Ravi and Mehrotra at all on urban planning and that Henrietta Palmetto that proposed approaching land as a rural urban network and numerous others that have emerged from the ground across villages and towns in Goa. All of these great potential alternative visions. However, political policy response to the above has been business as usual. And to understand that a little bit of the political context needs to explain here. One sees it Goa has a very small legislature comprising of 40 members of the Legislative Assembly. And political parties often have to stitch together coalition governments. Now land related ministries have been considered lucrative opportunities for rent seeking, and so major political parties have used land related ministries to reward political defectors and to cement political coalitions. This is grossly visible when, if you observe historically who has been allocated the Ministry of the Town Country Planning. More recently. Public development authorities have been expanded and new ones have been created. And these public development authorities, known as PDAs, they manage how urban land is used and all of them have been carved out and allocated to politicians, most of whom have been defectors, but even earn them a popular river title as political development authorities. So thus the political arrangements are sadly structured, not so much to regulate, but to enable extraction, sadly for personal and party purposes. Thus, the realization and implementation of creative land policies that safeguard ecological systems which form the essential basis of all social and economic processes or which incorporate social justice, are a sad casualty. Therefore, as long as it is business as usual, the same land struggles against large infrastructure projects, real estate and tourism projects and mining will, in my opinion, continue.

Arve Hansen [00:25:09]

And lastly, Fred, on the hopeful assumption that some listeners have been persuaded by your conversation that they should purchase a copy of the book, how should they go about it?

Fredrick Noronha [00:25:18]

Oh, actually, to be honest, the distribution system is a bit broken, but we are trying every trick in the book. The first target is of course to get it out locally. Then we would like to make it widely available as an e-book. So it should be out there. It should be on a whole lot of websites. Just get in touch if you can on and I'll make sure you get a copy one way or the other.

Arve Hansen [00:25:41]

So any listeners wanting to acquire the book can contact Fred and press then. Frederick Noronha, Solano da Silva, Heather Plumridge Bedi and Kenneth Bo Nielsen. Thank you for joining us and thank you for telling us more about the Great Goa Land Grab. The book comes highly recommended, I must say, and is, as we just heard, available from the publisher, Goa 1556. My name is Arve Hansen. Thank you for joining the Nordic Asia podcast showcasing Nordic collaboration in studying Asia.

Outro [00:26:13]

You have been listening to the Nordic Asia podcast