Decades ago, if one had to suggest that that St Cruz and Penha de Franca would be part of Panaji, laughter would ensue. Today, the capital city has moved its tentacles far beyond and this has spurred the entry of real estate developers not just into the places mentioned above but to Kadamba Plateau, Merces and even Porvorim, which considers itself an independent town with smart city potential.
Goa’s attraction as a tourist destination and the concentration of development in Panaji has prompted nearby areas to slowly be amalgamated into the capital territory. “The first clear move that Panaji was growing was when years ago the government decided to decentralize it. The decision was taken to move Goa University, Goa Medical College and government offices to the outskirts, at that time-Patto, Dona Paula, Bambolim and Taleigao,” town and country planning department’s chief town planner S T Puttaraju said.
With urban features like gated housing complexes, supermarkets, restaurants, wide roads, internet connectivity and private hospitals, areas including St Cruz, Porvorim, Taleigao, Ribandar, Merces, Verem, Dona Paula, Bambolim, Kadamba Plateau, Penha de Franca and Socorro are all part of an urban agglomeration with Panaji in the centre.
“A sign that the city was growing emerged when the decision was taken to convert Panaji municipal council into the corporation of the city of Panaji in 2011-12 and the inclusion of some parts of Ribandar under its jurisdiction,” CREDAI president Jaganath Deshprabhu said.
Plenty of Indians and non-resident Indians invested in Panaji sending real estate prices sky high and once Miramar, Dona Paula, Porvorim and Taleigao turned unaffordable, surrounding villages became hunting grounds for developers and local residents.
“Nearly every house has a vehicle or a car so people have no hassle staying away from the city and commuting for 15-30 minutes if it means that they get a bigger home and are away from city congestion,” Deshprabhu said. “As villages got populated with residential projects; commercial shops, showrooms and grocery stores came up completing the process.”
The development of Patto as a commercial hub and the decision to make Cujira an education centre were part of the measures to decongest Panaji. The decision to shift central and state government residences to Porvorim fuelled the growth around Panaji. “It will also have the effect of creating development in that area and help bring Cujira in the city fold. Kadamba plateau is now developing into another hub,” Puttaraju said.
The four-lane bypass corridor, currently being built from Panaji to Old Goa via the Kadamba Plateau, and the proposed IT Park at Chimbel have only sped up the urbanization process and housing market. “The inclusion of Kadamba plateau in the smart cities concept is being considered. But it is natural to consider Porvorim and the IT city in the smart city plan,” Puttaraju said.
In 1960, the total area under Panaji was 4.2 sq km, but by 2011 it had grown to 8.12 sq km as per census records. “Though on paper, and politically, Taleigao is not considered as part of Panaji, it has been part of Panaji planning area since 1998-99. The census has also declared St Cruz and Taleigao as census towns. They qualify as urban centres but remain part of the panchayat area,” Puttaraju added.
Though officials may state that the government is aware of the development process and is taking appropriate steps, on ground it looks exactly the opposite.
Not having learnt its lesson when it allowed National Highway 17 to bisect every possible major town in the state, right from Mapusa, to Panaji to Margao and then Canacona, the government continues to allow shops, banks, restaurants, showrooms and hospitals to come up along NH 17 in Porvorim.
“With a new mall and third bridge over the River Mandovi coming up, in five years Porvorim could be completely part of Panaji. What is missing is the infrastructure requirements. Ultimately, public bodies should sense the need to include the nearby areas in Panaji,” said Deshprabhu.
While Panaji’s outlying villages may show urban traits, the government may find it difficult to classify them as part of Panaji. Panaji is currently Sidharth Kuncalienker’s constituency, Porvorim is Rohan Khaunte’s, Taleigao is Antanasio Monserrate’s and St Cruz is Jennifer Monserrate’s.
“I agree that there are grounds for Panaji and vicinity to become one administrative entity, but it has to be a political decision. These areas have the characteristics of urban areas but you require an administrative decision to have them as one single urban entity,” Puttaraju said. “Conceptually, it is good to plan the development of the entire area as one urban entity. One can consider including outgrowths of Panaji into the smart cities planning. It is the government’s planning over the last two to three decades that has saved the city,” he added.
Planning and development has to go hand in hand but unlike planning, which requires government effort, development happens on its own. Developers state that in the next five years Panaji will assimilate the nearby areas while government officials expect it to take 10-15 years. At the end of the day, the process can only be slowed down, not stopped.