Goa's 'Model Villages' Shouldn't Be a Model for Anything

Schemes implemented in these villages continue to support society's feudal, caste-based nature.

Nitin Gadkari’s announcement during the election campaign that the Bharatiya Janata Party government would make Goa a model state is ambitious and completely overlooks how model villages have panned out in Goa. “If we have to build the nation we have to start from the villages,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said when announcing the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) – MP Model Village Scheme, implying that the model villages could scale up to a model state and from there to a model country.

Therefore, a natural corollary to Gadkari’s announcement is a scrutiny of how the SAGY has been implemented in the four model villages in Goa, all of whose MPs are from the BJP. In its conception and formulation, the SAGY, like the NDA government’s 60 schemes such as Swachh Bharat and Make in India that it was meant to be a convergence of, stood on the bedrock of a feudal caste society.

Critical to all these schemes are land rights. Data from the Indian Human Development Survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland in 2011-12 indicated that open defecation was markedly high in SC and ST households. With the disadvantaged castes being landless or under tenurial systems that are sought to be predicated on their caste-based functions, getting no objections from landlords for availing of support for toilets under a scheme like Swachh Bharat is well nigh impossible for these marginalised sections.

Similarly, a scheme like Make in India calling for foreign investments that would generate employment would be destined to disadvantage the marginalised sections. Land has been oft acquired for foreign investors by dispossessing tribal populations, whose interests in the land may not even find any mention in records in order to consider their views or to even receive compensation. Goa’s experience with land acquisitions, whether it be for the highways, the industrial estates or Special Economic Zones, is a case in point.

Therefore, these schemes could only have benefitted the most deserving if these basic structural issues were sought to be addressed through the schemes and accompanying legislation that would make the schemes implementable. But predictably, the need for pompous announcements held sway. There was no reality check of the caste-inflicted gashes on the landscape of an Indian village, where persons who are disadvantaged, and specially the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, have traditionally been carved out of the gains of any general socio-economic schemes. Goa, with its problems swept under the carpet to present a rosy picture to the world for tourism, is not without its share of caste-based prejudices and land rights contingent to following traditional caste-based occupations, as the model village experiment in Goa will show.

Consequently, the village development plans in each of the declared ‘model’ villages in Goa hit road blocks such as scarce land resources, endemic to caste societies. Not to speak of the conflicts between the micro projects and the macro projects such as coal corridors that soot the villages en route, contrary to the Gandhian vision of villages without dust that forms part of the SAGY Guidelines, or the abrogation of welfare state responsibilities that the state has accelerated and the consequent incompatibilities.

None of the four model villages – Ibrampur, Cola and Rachol (adopted in 2014) and Keri – have seen a materialisation of the projects demanded by and drawn up for the disadvantaged sections. North Goa MP Shripad Naik, who has adopted the villages of Ibrampur and Keri, has himself admitted in an interview in the local press that for Ibrampur, they shortlisted 13 projects for which land was required, but as no land was available, the local panchayat withdrew the projects. Far from community participation or integrated development, the model villages have become sites of deepening inequalities, exclusion and disintegration of sustainable community living.

Also read: Tribal Village Adopted by Javadekar in MP’s Chhindwara is All Set to Vote for Congress

The MPs were supposed to have engaged the village community, facilitated people’s participation in the Village Development Plan and mobilised the necessary resources. But the MPs, instead of trying to equalise, have left the villagers to the free market machinations of dialogue in a completely uneven playing field. “It is better that you sort out the issues amongst yourselves,” Naik is reported to have told the villagers of Shahunagar at Model Village Ibrahimpur, who refused to perform the traditional caste-based function of beating the drums at the temple, on which their land rights are now being predicated, although their families have lived there for generations.

Without land rights, they are at the mercy of the landlords – in the case of the Shahunagar villagers, the Communidades (institutionalised village communities), who own the land, and whose composition bears resemblance to those that control temples, even as Communidade land is otherwise rampantly acquired by the government for so-called ‘infrastructure’ or ‘development’ projects.

Besides Harijanwaddo at Ibrampur, the demand for a community hall or recognition of a community space has been spurned also at Boothkhamb at Keri, where the Dhangar (herding) community, who are tribals, but yet to be recognised as Scheduled Tribes by the state government, reside. The community has been traditionally using a space as their sacred yard space called mand and have been wanting a community hall built there. The community hall is now stuck in the mire of not getting an NOC from the government body which is in possession of the land. Rachol villagers sing the same story.

Fed up of the lack of sensitivity to the realities of her densely populated predominantly tribal village, Andreza Oliveira, a former sarpanch, recently told the officers who visited the village, “At the end of all planning through the Village Development Plan, everything comes to a standstill over the three letter word NOC.” The long-inhabiting tribal villagers of Rachol have also not been able to access the benefits of development in the absence of NOCs from their landlords or from the concerned department,s such as the Town and Country Panning Department. There have been no special policies and regulations, in this context, to make the community projects or building of pucca houses from kuccha houses ‘legally’ possible.

Also read: Villages in Uttar Pradesh Adopted By MPs ‘Stuck in a Time Warp’

Visits to these villages spring another dark surprise. There was no move to enlist the involvement of all villagers, irrespective of caste or creed, in the development of the wishlist for the model village as was mandated under the scheme. “We at Gaval Vaddo did not even know that our village had been adopted as a model village,” says Swati Vaiz, secretary of Sateri self-help group, Gaval Vaddo, a tribal ward at Model Village Cola. For that matter, even the present panch of that ward did not know about it. Even Oliveira says she learnt that her village was adopted as a model village when at the higher secondary that she teaches, she was told that all colleges are required to “do some NSS activity” at the model village of Rachol.

The entire process smacks of complete disregard for the consequences of such grandiose schemes that do not involve people, even as the marginalised and poor panchayats have to bear the cost burden of the projects initiated under SAGY. In the ordinary course, the recurring costs and bills of these projects would have been paid for by the concerned departments. It is the Rachol villagers’ alertness, on account of an earlier experience, that averted a health centre being set up with costs dumped on them, and the Directorate of Health Services reneging on its obligations.

All in all, it poses the fundamental question that if this is the fate of model villages which were to see a convergence of all the flagship schemes of the NDA government and be a model for other villages to follow, what might be the fate of other villages? And if Goa is poised to be a model state with a conglomeration of such villages, what might the fate be of other states?

Albertina Almeida is a Goa-based lawyer and human rights activist.