Why and How Investment Promotion Policy is draconian

By Dr Claude Alvares
27 January 2016 23:31 IST

The naturally well-endowed state of Goa occupies less than 1% of India's landmass. Yet the charm of the place and the hospitable nature of its local inhabitants now draw some 3-4 million people to come by and visit. Nothing of that awesome handsomeness has been constructed by any government. Almost all of it has come from the labours of a community expert in the maintenance of rice fields, paddies, khazan systems, and a low intensive life-style that is underscored by the spirit of soscegad – taking it easy – the key component of any tourist industry. The results of these efforts over decades is that the Goa region looks like a painting and the local artists who created it have really never bothered about how many people came to see and enjoy it.

The Government of Goa, however, has remained unimpressed. Over the years, it has tried zealously not to build on those assets, but to grind them to dust. Not surprising, every single project conceived by government or by companies or compradors have chewed up some part of Goa or another. The forests have been assaulted by mining, led by Vedanta, headquartered in England and also managed by local mining interests. But almost every 5-star hotel on the beach has been put up by operators and chains from outside the state. Each has taken down parts of the pristine beach system and crammed it with their imported fantasias in concrete, wholly disdainful of local architectural designs and ecological endowments like coconut groves and sand dunes.

Not unnaturally, the Goans have protested and continued to protest. Those promoting wholesale industrialisation of the state cavil and complain that environmental agitations are the greatest disincentive to a better economy for the state. They forget that even with the closure of mining, Goa's GDP, over the past three years, averaged 9%, higher than the rest of India's. Not wanting to get their image tarred by being associated with those bulldozing the environment for inappropriate development, the best names in industry have remained aloof from Goa. Alas, that has brought in those with undoubted capacity to do harm.

The state's land-use is controlled by the statutory Regional Plan, notified under the Town and Country Planning Act. Village level plans and land use are kept with Panchayats under the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. Both plans have significant inputs from the same villagers whose ancestors created the natural wealth and endowments of the state. Few of them want that to be dismembered. The oppositions have never ceased, since the government has no other wish but to impose. One former CM told the media that his word was law because he had been elected by a formal election, and therefore, he would do what he wanted, whatever the opposition.

It has been obvious to the Goa government that its hukum nonetheless is circumscribed with all the laws, regulations and notifications all sourced to itself, and unless these are changed, done away with or bypassed, nothing will move.

For example, it had to cancel more than one dozen SEZs in one single day because of public protests. For the same reasons, it had to scrap the statutory Regional Plan of 2011 in toto and go for a redesign from scratch. It had to cancel DuPont's Nylon 6,6 plant. It is unable to support promoters to put up yet more hotels due to stiff local opposition. One hotel resort proposed by one more Delhi company has been unable to lay a brick on its properties on a south Goan beach because the local villagers stoutly refused to have it there.

Instead of dealing with this issue with care and compassion, almighty government, quite clearly riled beyond tolerance, has decided instead to take back all those rights and powers it had granted to the local communities and local statutory bodies by simply bypassing them altogether.

 

Earlier, the government had amended the Industrial Development Act and removed all industrial estates from the jurisdiction of the Panchayats. In August 2014, it announced a Goa Investment Promotion Policy and followed this up with a draconian Goa Investment Promotion Act. This Act is designed to provide a “single-window” clearance, in lieu of clearances under the Regional Plan, the Land Revenue Code, any notified development plans, and even the Panchayat Raj Act. In fact, the Act ominously states: “All provisions in Government of Goa Acts and Statutes cease to apply” in all those areas declared “Investment Promotion Areas.” The Act is to be implemented through the Goa Investment Promotion and Facilitation Board (GIPFB). Interesting, the composition of the Board comprises the same cabal of officials and individuals who have been singular failures in the past: the CM is chairperson; there are three VPs (the Ministers of Industry, Tourism and IT), two Secretaries of Industry and Tourism, six persons associated with industry associations and industry. No one represents the public or public interest.

The Board's task is to give an omnibus clearance, notwithstanding all local laws, to any project proponent who “promises” investment of Rs 5 crore and above, plus local employment. How such an unconstitutional policy can become the basis of any development in the state is difficult to fathom. It is bound to get knocked down by the courts one day or another. It is already creating additional, more intensive, controversy.

The Goa Investment Promotion Act has been followed by changes in the Town and Country Planning Act. The amendments to the Act now allow those owning lands in excess of 20,000 sq mts in eco-sensitive zones notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to put up eco-tourism projects in 5% of the area. Obviously, no Aam Aadmi in Goa owns that much land, only Khaas Aadmis do. Neither has the MOEF & CC finally notified the zones. But the Goa government is already rushing in anticipation to ensure that the people who have acquired large tracts of lands in these areas will not be inconvenienced in any way by the eco-zone notifications when they come. The purpose of declaring an area “eco-sensitive” is to protect it. However, here we have a situation where law is being amended even before the notification is issued so that powerful actors can gird themselves to do the necessary damage.

These changes in the Town Planning Act have also been put outside the scope of the Regional Plan and the Land Revenue Code.

This process of extinguishing the rights of the people to a planned environment, as members of local bodies, is being extended to trees as well. The coconut tree has been recently defined out of existence to enable industries and real estate developers to engage in mass slaughter of these palms which define Goa better than its liquor and cashew.

If you wish to understand how these profoundly undemocratic laws are interlinked and enmeshed with each other, take the case of Vani Agro in south Goa. The plot on which this new alcohol plant is proposed has a thousand coconut trees and around 500 cashew trees. The proposal has been approved by the GIPFB, which means the restrictions governing the statutory land use in the Regional Plan do not apply, and there is no need of getting any approval from the local authority for the construction licence either.

The final nail on the coffin: the coconut and cashew trees can be felled with impunity, almost with a vengeance. That's pretty much how Goa is being governed nowadays. What's left?

Keeping the 2017 elections in mind, the government is planning to introduce a bill to regularise all illegal constructions carried out in the State. This will drive this state further into the sewer, by rewarding all those who broke every rule in the book, and punishing all those who followed the law.

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Dr Claude Alvares

Claude Alvares is a renowned environmentalist based in Goa, India. He is the editor of the Other India Press, an alternative publication based in India. The Director of the Goa Foundation, an environmental monitoring action group, Claude Alvares got his PhD from the Technische Hogeschool, Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, in 1976. He is a member of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). He is also a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes constituted by the Supreme Court of India. He wrote the famous article 'The Great Gene Robbery' in 1986. He lives at Parra, Goa with his wife Padma Shree and environmental lawyer Norma Alvares and three children, Rahul, Samir and Milind.

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Previous Comments

Excellent analysis, as always Claude the" David against Goliath and we are sure he will win.

he has been in the forefront for 3 decades protecting the environment, he needs all our support

- JOHN SEQUEIRA, OLATHE | 02 nd April 2016 03:24

 

We r behind u keep it up r good work since we r not in Goa the best reason out Politicians now.

- vicentin Rebello, uk | 28 th January 2016 00:50

 

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