Mridula Sinha, Governor Goa, in an interview with Kumar Dhanajay, Consulting Editor at Urban Update magazine, talks about current situation of Goan towns and cities. Delivery of municipal services, cleanliness and sanitation, pollution and plans to tackle climate change were some significant topics discussed
Goa is among one the favourite tourist destinations in the country. The city is also a melting point of different cultures. What can Goa teach other Indian cities about inclusiveness and cultural diversity?
Yes, Goa has always been a favourite destination of both national and international tourists. It is the most preferred destination mainly because of its serene beauty and the salubrious climate it offers. Goa is a blend of myriad cultures. There have never been any clashes among the people living in Goa regarding their religious beliefs and culture as they have a lot of tolerance towards each other’s values and customs. Respect for plural culture has remained hallmark of Goan culture. This is the very lesson other Indian cities can learn from Goa.
Rise in sea level is one of the major negative impacts of climate change around the world. Being a coastal city, how well is Goa placed in addressing the challenge?
Climate change can affect coastal areas in a variety of ways. Coasts are sensitive to sea level rise, changes in the frequency and intensity of storms etc. Growing populations haphazard development along the coasts and environmental pollution increase the vulnerability of coastal areas and its ecosystems to sea level rise. In Goa, the development has been rapidly growing in the last few decades. But our state is trying its best to strike a balance between infrastructural development and environment.
Also, a number of voluntary organizations in Goa have been working for the cause of protecting our environment from pollution and climate change.
Before becoming the Governor of Goa in 2014, you were heading the Women Wing of the Bharitya Janata Party. I would like to know how the role of women in politics has changed over the years? And, what are the major benefits to a city if women start taking more interest in politics, especially in municipalities?
There is growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and women’s leadership. I am glad that the number of seats reserved for women in Panchayta’s and other public bodies have seen an increase in the recent past. And, the role of women in politics has definitely changed from good to better. As a woman politician, one is in better position to voice women problems and opinions and speak about women rights which are heard on a mass level. It is heartening to note that Indian women were among the earliest to get their political rights like right to vote, contesting elections etc., without any political movement like many western countries. The role of women in building homes and society was known to the Constitution makers. They were also aware of many women rulers of past India.
Indian women were also among the foremost to take active part in politics even in pre-independence times on the call of Mahatma Gandhi. After independence, Gandhiji recognized the contribution of even illiterate women in freedom movements.
You have been Governor of Goa for almost five years. What is the best thing you like about Goa and what are the changes you would like to see in the city in terms of basic civic services renders to citizens and building of new infrastructure in the city?
One of the many things I like about Goa and Goans is social harmony. There is a deep bonding and understanding among the people of Goa which helps maintain the law and order and unity in the State even in face of diversity. I feel the civic services rendered in Goa is satisfactory but can improve for better.
The general public should not face any problem while executing their works. The focus of the government should be on improving sanitation and solid waste disposal in the cities and improving other urban amenities such as water supply problems and connectivity issues. Also like I said earlier, infrastructural development is essential but as long as it doesn’t hamper our environment, keeping a balance between the two is of utmost importance.
You were also among one of the ambassadors of Swachh Bharat Mission. How did this mission help in improving the sanitation and cleanliness in the State of Goa?
Swachh Bharat Mission has always been close to my heart and I have made a lot of efforts, as a brand ambassador of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to create better awareness among people for maintaining cleanliness at all places in the State.
I am glad that since the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the State of Goa has taken a giant leap forward in achieving the mission goals. It has taken a form of mass movement in Goa. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, said Mahatma Gandhi. We must take a pledge that we will make cleanliness and hygiene not just a part of our lives, but the very way we live. Cleanliness has always been a part of our tradition and has played an important role in every person’s life since childhood. It has always been our way of life and is taught in the first school called family. Purity of mind, purity of body and purity of intellect are the most important aspects of healthy and wholesome life. Also, the state government has planned to install 60,000 bio-toilets in the state to make it Open Defecation Free (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Not only in Goa, I have nominated individuals and institutions as my ambassadors all over India. I conducted one meeting of all the ambassadors in Raj Bhavan Goa.
They learned from each other and exchanged views and best practices through their reports. Action plan was given to all members. They are working on it.
What is the future of Indian cities in your point of view? Does the fast-paced urbanization in India going to impact urban livability because increasing population is causing dangerous air and water pollution levels?
The hopes of jobs and prosperity, among other factors, pull people from villages towards the cities which put a lot of pressure on urban infrastructure and amenities. Fast paced and haphazard urbanization which is largely on account of large scale migration from rural areas impacts urban livability as it causes environmental degradation and a lot of urban issues such as traffic jam, tree falling, problem of solid waste management, sewage disposal issues, water supply problems, high energy consumption and other service deficiencies. Strong city planning is essential in managing these issues and other difficulties as the states urban areas grow.
Another way to avoid these problems is that the facilities in villages be improved, employment be created in villages itself due to which the migration rate will drop, which in turn will reduce the impact on urban livability.
The focus of the government should be on improving sanitation and solid waste disposal in the cities and improving other urban amenities such as water supply problems and connectivity issues. Also like I said earlier, infrastructural development is essential but as long as it doesn’t hamper our environment, keeping a balance between the two is of utmost importance
Do you think that villages can address the problems of cities; if we improve facilities in villages and generate employment opportunities?
This will, in turn, reduce the influx of people into cities.
Yes, definitely, like I just said, improving the facilities in villages will obviously reduce the pressure on urban areas. Major aspect is employment; if jobs are created then there would be no need for people to migrate to other places thereby causing development of the said village and simultaneously reducing the impact on city life. Providing urban amenities in rural areas is the most important way out.
AIILSG is organizing the World Mayor’s Conference next year. What would be the benefit of bringing mayors from around the world under one platform?
It is good to know that AIILSG is conducting a world mayors conference next year. I am sure there will be a lot of exchange of ideas, practices and knowledge which will make it a fruitful event for everyone attending it.
What would be your message to city mayors coming to attend the World Mayor’s Conference?
Mayors are the representatives of the local government. It is the duty of the Mayor to ensure that civic services in the city improves. My message/appeal to all the Mayors is that they should discharge their duties with utmost sincerity and empathy so as to provide a responsive, ethical and service-oriented governance to the people.