Repeal 16B to save what is left of Goa

By Cleofato A Coutinho
11 August 2021 15:13 IST

The social media backlash resulting in the withdrawal of the Bhumiputra Bill bulldozed by the government in the assembly brings some ray of hope to those seeking to protect the idea of Goa.

The battle over land use and land conversion was brought on the table by the regional plan 2011. The then TCP Minister who had planned to paint the ‘city state’ red was stopped after a successfully rally of about 8000 Goans on the 41st anniversary of the historic opinion poll in 2007. The then Congress government de-notified RP 2011 after a successful movement by GBA. In early 2008 the Goa government bowed to the public sentiment and cancelled all approved Special Economic Zones.

The success of the people’s movement on the RP of 2011 and the SEZ brought in enough confidence and fired the required dynamism into public movement to protect what is left of Goa. But credit must also go to the then Congress government for following the public sentiment around the issue of Goa’s environment. The fiasco over the Bhumiputra bill is a clear silver lining. Though there has not been a public movement, the government succumbed to the public sentiment created over the social media platforms.

The public outrage over the three linear projects at the ecologically sensitive areas of the western gaths-the 400 KV high tension line, double tracking of the railway line and the expansion of the National Highway is high. The Railway line and the road expansion are seen as facilitation of coal transportation. The Governments- both central and local are determined to go ahead. Despite testing times due to the Corona faced pandemic, citizens spent time and energy in opposing the linear projects in keeping with their commitment to protect not only the coastal beach belt but also the hinterland of Goa.

The regional planning of land use and land conversion ought to take a holistic view for developing Goa’s land use keeping in mind larger public interest. Private interests are always subservient in such matters. Even though RP-2021 was not acceptable to the pioneers of environment movement, the plan had carved out clear areas called eco sensitive zones which would remain as no development area. ‘Eco-I’ consisting of forests mangroves, private forests, water bodies and khazan lands while ‘Eco-II’ consisting of orchards, natural cover, cultivable areas, salt pans and fish farms were frozen from any sort of development. The Eco-I and Eco II areas constituted about 62.38% of the total area in the populous old conquests with Tiswadi itself having 72.41% in Eco-I and Eco-II. The eco sensitive areas deserved protection by law and eternal vigilance of citizens so that these sensitive areas were protected for posterity.

The RP-2021 was prepared to retain the characteristics of our villages with classification as VP-I and VP-II, with limited plot coverage and height of buildings was to retain the character of villages. Despite opposition, the plan prepared by experts led by Charles Correia was welcomed by many as a solution to the conflict between development and environmental exploitation. Even Manohar Parrikar who opposed the plan when it was finalized and kept it in abeyance in his first run as CM, permitted it to be operational in his next innings.

As people fought on various fronts to protect the remainder of Goa, an aspect that is going unnoticed is the large scale clearance of mega infrastructure projects and conversion of agricultural, orchard, forest type and ecologically sensitive land for settlement purpose against the planning principles brought in by the RP- 2021, through a fraudulent amendment to the TCP Act. A new sec. 16B to the TCP Act brought by the Manohar Parrikar led government permits the government to make mincemeat of RP-2021. Lakhs of sq. mts. of land otherwise orchard and with natural cover classification, paddy fields, cultivable lands, and slopes are notified for conversion to settlement. The public notices published by the TCP Department from time to time are a complete recipe to disaster. A disastrous infrastructure created during the Parrikar led government is being exploited by the current government. That will only destroy what is left of Goa. The system created to accommodate private interests through Sec. 16B of the TCP Act is currently being exploited to fry much ‘bigger fish’ than we even imagined! The matter being pending before the High Court appears to have lulled everyone. The fifteen years of struggle over regional planning seem to have sapped public energy. The change of land use through Sec. 16B is going unnoticed as the state is also reeling under Covid pandemic. With the people spending their time and energy on the linear projects, coal transportation and the bhumiputra bill, the issue of land use and planning is getting ignored. There is some complacency over that extremely crucial issue.

With elections due next year, parties shall come with various jumlas to lure the electorate. As though the promise of Rupees fifteen lakhs was not enough a candidate has even come out with free apartments! There is public anger over the mismanagement of covid. The most important matter that must dominate the 2022 election discourse is protection of what is left of Goa. The Parrikar led government let us down by enacting sec.16B to be incorporated into the TCP Act. That needs to be undone. The civil society has to pick up the gauntlet. The solidarity shown by the civil society in opposing the bhumiputra needs to be demonstrated with the alacrity the situation warrants. Let us not forget that the important component of Goa’s identity is its land. We may not be in a position to reverse what has happened to our cities. But the character of the villages at least needs to be preserved.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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