Hill cutting, land filling, tree felling, the number of such cases only goes up, never comes down. On almost every weekend when the government departments take a holiday, or even on weekdays when the offices are open, there are cases of hill cutting or land filling occurring across the State. If many have been foiled it is only because of alert citizens who have not hesitated to point out to the government officials that such illegalities are taking place. Whether it be Pernem, Calangute, Pilar, Porvorim, Colva or name any village in Goa, and there will be some illegality with land being undertaken.
After Herald exposed the hill cutting at Virnoda the district administration directed the local police to inquire into the matter and take action. Residents of the area alleged that the mud from the hill was being used to fill up khazan land in another area. Herald also reported that the flying squad that had inspected the area ordered the hill cutting to be stopped and directed the local police to keep it under watch. However, when the flying squad inspected the area again, it found that the hill cutting had not been stopped. This is an example of how government orders are ignored by the people who take the law into their hands.
The State is now empowered to restore land that has been illegally filled. The recent amendment to Section 33 of the Land Revenue Code states that the Collector is empowered to restore any low-lying area, khazan land, land under Coastal Regulation Zone, water body or environmentally/ecologically sensitive area which has been illegally filled with mud or rubble, immediately without issuing any notices. The Collector is also empowered, under the amendment, to recover the cost of the restoration from the owner of the land. The most important question is whether the administration will undertake such a restoration of the land?
Earlier the Land Revenue Code had no powers to order the restoration of the land and the only option people had was to file a complaint of illegal land conversion. The other option was to complain to the Town and Country Planning Department under Section 17 A of the TCP Act. However, the complainants would be at the mercy of the TCP Department officials since only this department had the powers to file an FIR against those involved. Besides the abysmal rate of convictions, the lack of any provision in the TCP Act for restoration meant that the owners of the land could start constructing on the land even before the case was dropped. It all changed with the recent amendment to the Land Revenue Code, which for activist came as a big boon. However, it has not been easy and they have had to approach the courts to get the officials to implement the law and immediately restore all the agricultural fields which have been illegally filled.
But how would one restore a hill that has been cut? Is it even possible? It won’t be easy, neither will restoring the land be.
While such illegalities occur constantly, there is a tremendous amount of awareness among the that is able to keep it partially in check. There is even a facebook page Goa Against Hill Cutting and Land Filling, that though not updated still exists. As in the case of Virnoda, it has always been the people that have brought such illegalities to the notice of the government authorities. It is a very rare occasion on which the administration may take a proactive role in such a case, waiting always for a complaint to be filed. Unless the government begins to act without waiting for a complaint, this will not change. It is only people’s activism that keeps the government wheels in motion, and it is government inaction that fuels illegalities.