Legend has it that Goa was created when Lord Parshurama shot an arrow to push back the sea, to create a green paradise for his followers. Consequent to a three pronged offensive, the BJP government has aborted RP 2021 in the womb. By virtue of the investment Promotion Act, the government has empowered itself to acquire even fertile agricultural land for industrial purposes. Following the amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act, the fragile ecology of the state is under threat from mega eco-tourism projects. In its anxiety to remove all obstacles in the path of the greedy land sharks, the government.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has done more to destroy green Goa than either Babush Monserrate’s diabolical Regional Plan 2011 or the Special Economic Zone promoted by former Chief Minister, Pratapsingh Raoji Rane. Thanks to mass public protests by the Goa Bachao Abhiyan and the anti-SEZ committee respectively, the Regional Plan 2011 was scrapped and the land allotted to land sharks under the SEZ scheme was cancelled. Never mind that the Parsekar government now seems to be moving towards an out of court settlement with the promoters of the SEZ whereby the allottees would be able to retain one third of the land assigned to them.
THE THREE PRONGS
THE three prompt destructive Trishuls of the successive BJP governments headed by Manohar Parrikar and Laxmikant Parsekar threaten to cause more destruction and comprehensively destroy the unique and district identity of Goa. The demolition of Goa was completed during the recently concluded monsoon session of the Assembly by the former speaker, Rajendra Arlekar, who has been given charge of the environmental portfolio to ensure that there are no obstacles to the criminal conspiracy of the BJP in collusion with the land sharks.
The process of destroying the identity of Goa began with the Investment Promotion Board conceived by the former Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar. Under the guise of promoting industry and creating jobs for the lakhs of unemployed educated youth in the state, Manohar Parrikar masterminded the Investment Promotion Board Bill which was passed by the legislative assembly of Goa in the monsoon session in 2014. The Investment Promotion Board set up by the government of Goa under the act empowers the state government to forcibly acquire any land in the state including cultivated agricultural land, orchards, forests and even land within the coastal regulation zone which may be identified as an industrial zone. Worse still, the notification of land for industrial purposes has been placed outside the purview of even the town and country planning act. Areas designated as industrial zones by the chief executive officer of the Investment Promotion Board will also be outside the purview of the regional plans and the planning and development authority. In a draconian move, the state government has even stipulated that acquisition of land through the Investment Promotion Board for industry cannot be challenged in any court of law.
Unlike even the controversial land acquisition act that was promoted by the Central Government headed by Narendra Modi, there are no safeguards of any sort for the citizens against the arbitrary misuse of power by the state government. In the case of the central land acquisition act, which was intended to make land available to the corporate sector, it was stipulated that the consent of 70% of the stakeholders in the urban areas and 80% of the stakeholders in the rural areas would be a precondition for acquisition of land by the government for its corporate patrons. The land acquisition bill in its original avatar as sought to be moved by the erstwhile UPA government also made it mandatory to conduct a social audit before land was acquired. When the BJP introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha, both the safeguards relating to the consent of the stakeholders and social audit to assist the impact as well as the compensation process were greatly diluted. Fortunately, the bill was rejected by the opposition dominated Rajya Sabha and could not be pushed through despite three successive ordinances by the Narendra Modi government.
The Chief Minister, Laxmikant Parsekar, has been boasting of having cleared several dozen investment proposals by the Investment Promotion Board for which land will be acquired by the government under the relevant clause which empowers the board to declare any land meant for industry as an industrial zone which will not be subject to any of the laws relating to conversion or changing zone that applies to other land in the state used for agriculture, horticulture and other non-industrial uses.
GOA LAND GRAB
The second prong of the three cornered Trishul of destruction is the amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act that was passed during the recently concluded monsoon session of the legislative assembly. Under the amendment moved by the Town and Country Planning minister, Francis D’ Souza on Thursday, January 14, 2016, promoters of eco-tourism projects such as the golf course in Tiracol or the recreational facility in Vanxim will not require any conversion or change of zoning of any land for undertaking these activities. The bill introduced by the deputy chief minister stipulated that eco-tourism activities can be set up to the extent of 5% of the total eco sensitive area provide the minimum area required is not less than 20,000 sq mts. Significantly there is no maximum limit for the area which can be used for eco-tourism purposes. As in the case of the Investment Promotion Board Act, other land use acts such as the town and country planning act and any regional plan or Planning and development Authority Act will stand superseeded by the latest amendment promoting eco-tourism projects in even eco-sensitive zones. Both in the draft regional plan 2021 proposed by the Task Force for RP 2021 headed by Charles Correa and Edgar Ribeiro and the RP 2021 notified by the Digambar Kamat government, no development of any sort were to be permitted in eco-sensitive zones. The bill which was passed during the recently concluded winter session superseeds all other acts including the RP 2021.
Any development involves large scale hill cutting. The largest number of tree species in Goa is the ubiquitous coconut tree. Indeed, Goa as in the case of Kerala is distinguished from other states because of the large number of coconut trees and coconut groves in every part of Goa and not just the coastal parts of the state. To protect the forest wealth and the green cover which has been the unique selling proposition of Goa, there are stringent laws on the cutting of trees. Any individual which includes land sharks and even the government of Goa which wants to cut down a single tree has to obtain the permission of the tree authority. In the case of the leading hotels project in Tiracol and several other mega tourism and construction projects in the state, the National Green Tribunal has issued stay orders on the projects because of large scale destruction of trees without permission of the forest department and more specifically the tree authority.
TO make it much more easy to destroy the ecology of Goa, the legislative assembly on Thursday, 14th January used the third prong of the Trishul to reclassify the coconut plant as a palm. Under the amendment to the Goa preservation of trees bill, no permission will be needed any longer to cut any coconut tree anywhere in Goa. The ostensible excuse is that seeking permission for cutting down coconut trees is very tedious and it can pose a risk to the life and limbs of both citizens and tourists. The degradation of the coconut tree to grass or weeds which can be cut on the whim and fancy of anybody is tantamount to destruction of the very identity of Goa. To quote the former environmental minister, Alina Saldanha who was removed from her post as she was considered a hindrance to the land sharks “The Coconut Tree is synonymous with Goa and a real Goan would never cut a coconut tree without a reason”. As the eminent physician activist has rightly pointed out, ‘this BJP government has reached the end of its sensible limit and is now entering into extremely dangerous territory. By sacrificing Goa’s most secular emblem, the coconut tree, the hubris and arrogance reminds me of the erstwhile Congress regime of 2007-2012 and finally they were thrown out. Now our infinitely treacherous BJP government has knocked the wits out of our iconic coconut tree by down grading it to the status of a blade of grass’.
HISTORICALLY, Goans have always taken pride in having the thickest forest cover among the states in the country. The forest cover of Goa at almost 40% is what distinguishes green Goa from the concrete jungles that even other tourist destinations like Simla and Mahabaleshwar have been reduced to. Not content with degrading the coconut tree, the environmental minister has been brazen enough to claim that it is not in the interest of the state’s development to increase the forest cover. On the contrary, the environmental minister is anxious to push through another retrogressive legislation which will permit the decimation of private forest in the state which account for 14% of the total land area of Goa.
Legend has it that Goa was created when the arrow of Lord Parashurama shot from the village of Parashurama in the Kudal district of Maharashtra landed in the state. According to mythology, the landmass of Goa was created out of the sea by Lord Parashurama for the benefit of the Brahmins who did not have a land of their own. It would now appear that the Bharatiya Janata Party which swears by Lord Parashurama along with lord Ram and all the deities of the Hindu Pantheon, is going berserk and misusing and abusing the axe of Parashurama to completely destroy the delicate ecology of green Goa.
With successive Chief Ministers, Manohar Parrikar and Laxmikant Parsekar obsessed with promoting industry, the BJP government has literally armed itself with the right to unilaterally convert cultivated agricultural land and orchards not to mention forest land into highly polluting industrial zones. It may be recalled that the former chief minister, Manohar Parrikar had in his delusionary grandeur promised to attract Rs 25,000 crores of investment to create over 50,000 jobs in the state during the present tenure of the BJP government. In pursuit of this megalomaniacal fantasy, the present Chief Minister, Laxmikant Parsekar, has already extended permission to over 50 investment proposals for which land will be forcibly acquired by the government under the provision of the investment promotion act. It has been shockingly admitted that the immediate provocation for the amendment to the trees act to deprive the coconut of its iconic status is to facilitate the building of a huge distillery which will involve the cutting down of thousands of coconut trees.
The felony committed by Manohar Parrikar has been compounded by his successor Laxmikant Parsekar who has not even spared the eco-sensitive areas demarcated in the draft regional plan which bars all and any kind of development activity in such zones. Under the draft regional plan 2011, eco-sensitive zones are defined as areas with a tree cover of more than 20% and areas which are rich in mangroves that serve as a natural barrier against sea erosion. Now not just trees and mangroves but even sand dunes can be destroyed for mega eco-tourism projects as they have been divested of the protection that had been extended under the draft regional plan 2021. Indeed it was the decision of the action committee appointed by Digambar Kamat to finalise RP 2021 to exclude eco-tourism projects from the purview of the Regional plan that led to the protest from village groups of sabotage of the draft plan by the then chief minister Digambar Kamat.
WITH a passage of the amendment to the town and country planning act permitting eco-tourism activities in eco-tourism and the re-classification of the coconut tree to make it easier for land sharks to annihilate the coconut groves, the last nail has been hammered into the destruction of Goa. What is shocking is the lack of any protest by niz goenkars against the systematic loot and plunder of the state under the pretence of development and creating jobs for the educated unemployed. Where is the spirit which inspired over a lakh Goans to assemble at the Azad Maidan to force the then state government headed by Digambar Kamat to scrap the insidious Regional Plan 2011, which was engineered by a former minister for town and country planning to sell Goa to the land sharks?
In the case of the lakhs of acres of land which was acquired and gifted to land sharks under the guise of promoting Special Economic Zones, the SEZ Virodh Manch not only compelled the Digambar Kamat government to cancel the allotment but even scrap the SEZ policy. It may be recalled that most of the land allotted for the creation of special economic zones was at the instance of the then chief minister, Pratapsingh Rane and that too on oral instructions to the then Chairman of the Goa Industrial Development Corporation, Babu Kavlekar. When Digambar Kamat succeeded Rane, he succumbed to the will of the people and scrapped the allotment of land to the SEZs. The allotees however moved the courts which stayed the cancellation of the allotments. Even though the allotments were cancelled and the SEZ policy itself was scraped, the government has not been able to rake repossession of the land. As in the case of the diversion of the Mhadei river, the former Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar has now reached an out of court supplement with the allottees whereby they would be allowed to retain one third of the land allotted to them.
WITH elections to the Goa State Assembly expected early next year, it is clear that the BJP wants to build its war chest. Particularly in view of the fact that migrant vote banks have become the swing factor. It is estimated that migrants and scheduled tribes who vote en masse in exchange for inducements account for more than 40% of the population of the state. The claim of permitting the destruction of the ecology to generate investment and jobs is just an excuse for extorting money from the corporate lobby. In this sense, the BJP seems to have outdone even Pratapsingh Rane and Babush Monserrate, who had laid the seeds for the growth of the poisonous weeds which have been choking green Goa. All of us need to come together in the same spirit of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan and SEZ Virodh Manch movements to save Goa from the RSS Trishul and the power mad Parashuram’s axe.