While the outrage over the establishment and expansion of Planning Development Authority’s (PDAs), which effectively takes over the role of panchayats continues, there is an overwhelming case for looking at large scale irregularities and blatant illegalities permitted by Goa’s panchayats, which have led to rampant destruction of fields and hill slopes, throughout Goa.
However, even as irregularities in panchayat areas, which have led to unplanned and reckless take-over of village spaces continued, what is surprising is that the trampling of village areas has gone unchecked in villages after villages, which have taken the look and shape of unplanned and ugly towns, with zero aesthetics. Homes, buildings and shops have been constructed without licences, often at throwaway prices. In most cases, the builders, the panchayat members, the talathi and other officials as well as communidade officials are co- conspirators, who collude in facilitating illegalities.
This is the ugly side of the story in Goa’s villages. As we seek to protect Goan villages from the onslaught of urbanisation, all problems do not necessarily occur due to villages going under an urban planning body. The decay lies within villages. The rot has set, in the governance of rural bodies so much so that in the corruption and unfair practices index, the lines between rural and urban blur totally.
A massive saga of illegal construction has unfolded in the once sleepy village of Saligao. A Herald ground report has revealed how 35,000 square metres of land has been occupied with illegal constructions on a slope connecting to Pilerne village. Many survey numbers have no permissions for construction. Inquiries revealed that a majority of the plots have been “sold”, in absolute and flagrant violation, many to unsuspecting migrants at such prices, that they didn’t do any legal scrutiny. Shockingly the talathi confirmed that this was a green belt but when asked how massive constructions were going on, literally under his nose, his reply was taken from an old stock of quotes government babus give when they want to avoid a probing question. He said that “whenever he receives a complaint, he forwards it (like a postman) to his higher ups. He made an unverified claim that stop work orders have been issued to some constructions. And like in other villages where such illegalities are taking place, house numbers have been allotted which almost legalises an illegality.
Hill cutting and occupation of comunidade land has been the pattern in most villages and the response of those who are elected or are paid by the government is strategically vague and unresponsive. The Saligao sarpanch responded to the massive illegalities on the Pilerne slope, by actually saying that “those did not happen during his tenure”, ignoring that fact that they are continuing well into his tenure.
These are copybook violations. Herald, readers may recall, exposed the massive illegal land grab at the Pedamol flat land in South Goa. The land belongs to the Shirvoi Comunidade and the same was sold part-by-part for to people, mostly from out of Goa.
As many as 122 structures had mushroomed on the land.
The government and the Revenue Department have decided to clear 100 out of the 122 structures.
In Saligao too, the RDA minister and local MLA Jayesh Salgaocar has ordered an inquiry with a promise to file FIRs and charge-sheets and restore the land to its original form.
While Herald stands vindicated that the inquiry was ordered on the day our report was published, it just underlines the fact that anyone who matters in Saligao was aware of these illegalities, including perhaps the minister himself. Holding an inquiry is a sign that there is a willingness to respond to hard facts reported in the media. But it is also a sign that visible illegal constructions, post a land grab, have been allowed to fester for years not just in Saligao but across panchayats all over Goa.