In Goa’s Loliem, a proposed film city divides village, raises ecological questions - Hindustan Times

In Goa’s Loliem, a proposed film city divides village, raises ecological questions

ByGerard de Souza
Feb 19, 2024 11:41 AM IST

In Oct 2023, the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) issued an ad in newspapers asking that it is looking for 250 acres of land calling on private land owners to approach for the same

The Goan government’s plan to set up a film city in the state on the lines of the Ramoji film city in Hyderabad has divided locals residing in Loliem-Polem region.

The proposed film city is set to come up in Loliem-Polem. (Representative file photo)
The proposed film city is set to come up in Loliem-Polem. (Representative file photo)

While the section which controls the affairs of the comunidade have expressed their willingness to part with their land and support the project, the majority of villages have rejected the decision at the gram sabha meeting held recently.

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The villagers allege that the plan is the latest attempt to corner the village’s comunidade (community) land -- that boasts of picturesque sea cliffs on one side and the protected forest reserves of the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary on the other.

The project

Stating that a film city in Goa was a dream of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, Goa’s social welfare minister Subhash Phaldessai first mooted the film city project during his tenure as the vice chairman of the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG).

In October last year, the ESG issued an advertisement in local newspapers asking that it is looking for 250 acres of land calling on private land owners with clear land titles to approach for the same.

A month later, after it received a letter from the Loliem comunidade, the ESG via a tender appointed Resurgent India Ltd, an investment banking firm “to provide transaction advisory services for the development of a film city in Goa.”

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While the government hasn’t yet revealed the scale of the film city yet, the comunidade members revealed that they have been told that the Film City Loliem will feature products like pre-production studios, shooting locations, backlots, post-production studios, VFX and CGI studios, supporting infrastructure, commercial space, event and concert venue, film school and accommodation units for the crew, production team and actors.

The Goan state government continues to push the case for the film city.

At the recent inaugural of the International Film Festival, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant told the film fraternity that the state was committed to completing the work in a time bound manner.

“Already floated an EOI for setting up of a film city in the state. This is our commitment to the film fraternity that we will complete procedures related to this work in a fast track and time bound manner,” Sawant had said.

Loliem comunidade nod

Plans for the film city received a boost when the Loliem comunidade -- a body of local local gaunkar (village owners) including the landed Brahmin community who managed the affairs of community lands -- gave their approval to hand over 250 acres of land to the government on a 99-year lease to set up a film city.

The approval was passed at a meeting attended by 54 of the 128 gaunkar of which 50 voted in favour while four voted against.

“We held a meeting and felt it was a good opportunity for Canacona. Canacona taluka is backward and till date there has been no development here. The comunidade owns a huge land and it should be used for the development of the village and the taluka. It is a government project and with the consent of the comunidade we can provide them the land,” Vishwajit Varik, president of the comunidade told media persons after the meeting.

The comunidade had first expressed its willingness to offer part of its land in response to an ad in the newspapers floated by the ESG seeking land to set up a film city in the state.

“After two months we received a letter from them stating that they like our land. That they want 250 acres of land on a 99-year lease,” he added.

“A Film City requires a range of technical jobs, such as lighting technicians, sound engineers, set designers, carpenters, musicians and visual effects artistes. A technical training institute will be an integral part imparting training in lighting technicians, sound engineers, set designers, and visual effects artists, who can be later absorbed in this Film City itself, and will have an opportunity of employment at national and international level.”

“Opportunities in hospitality and tourism, transportation and local businesses are enormous. Job opportunities for instructors, administrators, support staff and the students post completion of their courses. Overall, the Loliem Film City is tentatively expected to generate direct employment to over 5,000 people in various segments,” said Varik.

Villagers disapprove

The decision taken by the comunidades, however, has not gone down well with a majority in the village. Even as the gaunkars were deliberating on their decision to agree to lease their land to the government, villagers gathered outside to “register their resistance in a peaceful manner” against the decision that they alleged was a mere formality.

“We the people had come together and decided that if this land is going to be given, it has to be given away only for traditional use. There is a nexus between the land owners and politicians. Across Goa, the government is trying to capture common lands. They also need to know that it is our village as much as it is their village and we need to protect our common home,” Denis Fernandes, who was among those camped outside, said.

At a gram sabha meeting held in November last year, the village council decided to “unanimously” reject a proposal for a film city and “take all steps necessary to conserve the plateaus of Loliem village and prevent the grant of comunidade lands for the purpose of the film city, or any other purposes that are not traditional uses of the village communities.”

The villagers have received support from some members of the comunidade who believe the move is not a viable idea.

“This appears to be a classic case of a land scam wherein the government wants to bring more wild areas under human domination. A comunidade is supposed to hand over its land only for uses of the community instead they have got together and are acting like a local broker,” Om Prabhugaonkar a member of the comunidade who was present for the meeting said.

“Today with digital techniques and artificial intelligence, film shooting sets are becoming smaller and smaller. Once the land is handed over under the guise of viability, they will significantly increase the housing portion of the land and will bring in other avenues to make it viable like an amusement park, theme park. This is nothing but a purely real estate endeavour,” Prabhugaonkar said adding that he will be challenging the legality of the comunidade’s meetings.

Long running battle

The battle for the 40-lakh square metre plateau in Loliem dates back to 2016 when the Goa government was forced to abandon its plans for setting up the campus for Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Goa at the same stretch of land following protests from villagers.

Back then too, the battle lines were drawn on similar lines.

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The Brahmin dominated comunidade was in favour of handing over the land for the institute but the villagers through the gram sabha staunchly opposed the handing over the land for any use other than traditional uses like grazing and agriculture.

While the comunidade members argue that handing over the land for a government sanctioned project was legitimate use and represented a non-polluting, non-industrial use of the land that would help bring jobs to the village, the opponents allege that the move to hand over the land posed multiple threats to the village and its environment.

“This land has been kept by our forefathers for us and we will keep it for our children. This village does not belong to four people or 150 people. It belongs to the 1,500 people living here. It is their right and they have to keep it. Today you can film any movie in a 200 sq metre studio, you don’t need a 250-acre land. Goa is already finished, and we are trying to save what’s left of it,” Samir Naik a villager from Loliem said, adding that he feared that even if 200 people from the village got jobs, many more people would move into the village threatening its limited resources.

Denis said that the project was misconceived from scratch simply based on the assumption that it was a “rock, barren land.”

“These ecosystems are fragile and cannot be restored once destroyed. Generations to come will never be able to witness this in our village. Ask yourself what prosperity we will achieve by losing these marvels of nature? Can such ignorant development be sustainable?” Ashish Prabhugaonkar, a biologist and an opponent of the project said.

The ecological argument

The land where the project is proposed is referred to as the Bhagwati plateau, a name it derives from the local deity whose temple is located at the centre of the plateau.

The lateritic plateau, like several across Goa and the West Coast of India serves as a crucial grassland.

“Plateaus form a unique ecosystem that is different from other ecosystems like forests or wetlands. The birds that make this their home won’t be found anywhere else,” an avid birder Savio Fonseca, said.

Indeed, Goa’s plateaus have been hosting species like the Indian jackal who have all but vanished from the state’s landscape.

Opponents have pointed to how several plateaus of Goa have been taken over for “development” like industrial estates leading to loss of the state’s crucial wild spaces.

However, there are those from the village who believe that a film city will bring the right kind of development for the village.

“The village is the most ideal place to host a film city in Goa -- it has various types of geographical features that are found across the state -- beaches, cliffs, rocky midlands and the thick forests of the western ghats. For the film city to be successful, it will be in the interest of the promoters to keep as much natural beauty as possible in order that they have pristine locations to shoot. They cannot afford to destroy it. Haphazard constructions will not happen,” Sandesh Prabhudesai, a retired journalist who hails from the village, said.

“Loliem has given birth to several personalities who have made it big in the showbiz industry. Today every second house in the village is shut because people have been forced to move out for better prospects,” Prabhudesai said.

Local MLA and speaker of the Goa Legislative Assembly Ramesh Tawadkar said he was in favour of the film city because it will bring jobs to the region that otherwise sees people moving out.

“The speaker needs to see how the village is opposing this. If he is under the impression that only one or two people are opposing this, then he should see the number of people protesting. If the government forces this project upon us, then the population of Canacona will go up by 30,000 to 40,000. What will our situation be then? We have to keep the land for future generations, where will they get clean water from, good food,” local villager Naik said.

Unfazed, the comunidade has said they will hand over the resolution to the ESG.

“We will hand over a copy of our resolution to the Entertainment Society of Goa and ask them to take it forward,” Varik said.

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