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Think big, act smart

One of Goa’s greatest developmental tragedies is its compulsion to think and plan small (or not at all) and then act monumentally big.

Story: Constantino Xavier | 07th August 2012, 02:22 Hrs

For example, instead of taking on the Indian Navy on Dabolim’scivilian status, the state is bent on constructing a mammoth second airport tohost the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft. An NHAI-commissionedhighway with stretches as wide as 45-metres plans to cut the state in half,from North to South. And last month, inspired by Kuala Lumpur, Singapore andHong Kong, Goa’s tourism minister announced a 35-storeyed “viewing tower with shoppingemporia” right on Baga beach.

Goa’s airport, highway and tower projects reflect smallthinking that, in sudden spurts, gets implemented as gigantic projects that areincoherent, unsustainable, or completely divorced from the state’s long-term interests.

This is no surprise: India today is in dire need to act asbig and fast as possible if it wants to catch up with China and deliver oninfrastructure. Planning long-term therefore means building flyovers or dams inunprecedented size and number. But in Goa, with a capital city of less than100,000 people situated in a fragile ecological habitat, six-lane highways, agigantic dam or two airports make little sense – in any sense.

Planning does not only require expertise but, moreimportantly, time. To think big in a small state like Goa calls for aninvestment in knowledge, both local and global: for each project, one needs to identifyGoa’s environmental and socio-economic conditions, develop future scenarios, andcompare it to both successful and failed developmental models of similarregions worldwide (definitely not Singapore or Hong Kong!).

There is no denial that with an economy that grows at 13 percent, a population that almost tripled in fifty years, and a tourism sectorthat annually attracts close to three million tourists, Goa urgently needs todevelop its infrastructure. But the exigencies of action should not be allowedto undermine the demands for long-term planning. At the same time, the legitimateconcerns for conservation and sustainability should not lead to paralysis.

And yes, there is amiddle way between these two extremes of infrastructural hyperactivity andutopian stasis. This is the path of expert-informed, long-term policy planning,one that focuses on thinking big, forward and out-of-the-box in order to findways to act smart and sustainably.

One such option is for the government to commission expert reportsand committees, such as the recent Goa Vision 2035 or the defunct Goa KnowledgeCommission led by Peter de Souza. The problem is that their recommendations areeither immediately adopted because biased towards governmental or businessinterests, ignored if inconveniently independent, or forgotten after a short publicdebate or a change in government. That is the fate of most reports andcommissions worldwide: they fulfill immediate political, budgetary orregulatory requirements for “public consultation,” provide a nice extra incomefor the consulted experts, but are rarely read by anyone, especially in government.

A better way to institutionalize Goa’s expertise and to providethe state executive, bureaucracy and civil society with informed inputs, wouldbe to establish a think tank with the task of preparing independent studies ona variety of issue-areas, from infrastructure to tourism, economic,environmental and educational policies. Think tanks are already performing animportant role at the national level, for example on the economy (ICRIER),defence (IDSA) and overall policy (CPR).

A similar think tank in Goa, maybe as a jointly fundedpublic-private partnership, could conduct non-partisan policy research andadvisory, and serve as the necessary bridge between the often-divergentpriorities of politics, business and society. This should not be a traditionalacademic institute nor a partisan organization constrained by governmentalbudgets or appointments, but an independent policy planning organizationfocused on providing analytical insights, comparative studies, and forecasts.

Goa and its diaspora are fortunate to have excellent non-governmentalorganizations and experienced individuals that could provide such a think tankwith the necessary leadership and expertise. It’s time to think big tocapacitate the government to act smart, in Goa’s long-term interest.

 

Constantino Xavier is a Ph.D. candidate atJohns Hopkins University (SAIS) in Washington DC and tweets at @constantinox 

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