Herald: There are no holy cows, when our precious land has been ‘converted’ and destroyed, plot by plot

There are no holy cows, when our precious land has been ‘converted’ and destroyed, plot by plot

29 Apr 2018 07:31am IST

Report by
Sujay Gupta

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29 Apr 2018 07:31am IST

Report by
Sujay Gupta

This is bereft of any complication really. It’s the simplest thing to do. But will it be done? If the TCP minister is clean and wants to keep his slate that way, we should see an investigation ordered, with no riders and safeguards with a mandate that every instance of land conversion, mainly to settlement, by politicians, individuals and institutions, carried out for personal benefit and not planned land use, should be investigated and each of those conversions & projects cancelled.

The results of the investigation should be made public and uploaded online, just like the Panama Papers.

The yardstick is clear. An inquiry will reveal how different areas and plots have been converted through a process of decision making which has very little to do with a plan but everything do with specific cases.

The people of Goa have gone beyond wondering and reached a stage of conviction that the concept of ‘case by case’ basis, in reality is a short form of ‘suitcase by suitcase” basis.

The Lohia rally on feisty Friday named a series of politicians who, according to the activists who conducted a study, had managed to convert orchard and other land to settlement, or have lands in forested, riverine and green areas. In most cases, green covers have been shown as settlement.

While this study has created ripples, and served to heighten the excitement of a ‘finding’ and the anger of a ‘realisation’, at the Lohia rally, this is just a hint of the tip of an iceberg. This indeed is a little blob of ice you see on a faraway peak as you begin to climb your way to the base camp, and nowhere near the summit.

Some of the politicians, veteran and young, who have jumped off their skins to give “clarifications” and have threatened defamation suits, are more likely to be concerned about what has not been said than the glimpse of their purported conversions that showed up dramatically on a big screen at Lohia Maidan. Many of the politicians were taken aback at the manner in which a power point presentation was beamed in a public space. It was literally like getting stripped on the town square.

However, the big ask is whether this is all they have converted. Is this the extent of their involvement in conversions? Is it believable that one veteran minister has converted a mere 2500 square metres of land when in reality that total amount of land converted directly or through relatives and others could turn into multiples of lakh square metres. When Manohar Parrikar, as opposition leader had made a remark that “the Regional Plan is not turning red or brown (signalling conversion to settlement zones) but is turning ‘pink’, referring to the nick name of a close acquaintance of a veteran leader believed to have been the real architect of conversions.

Is hamamm mein sab nange hain, as the saying goes. A hamam is a Turkish bath house and according to the saying “Everyone is naked in this bath house”. And if that is the case, then everyone’s record of conversions should be pulled out and exposed. Why restrict this only to a few slide presentations and maps. Let it all come out and let politicians, individuals and every institution that has asked for and got land converted from orchard to settlement, in RP 2021 come out. 

When the people of Goa have been raising demands to scrap the Regional Plan of 2021 and coming up with a fresh RP of 2031, there is no denying that the base of the new plan has to begin with RP 2021. We have not had a plan 1987 really since the 2001 RP was planned in the early eighties. The 2011 plan was rightfully scrapped and the massive shifting of goal posts between draft RP 2021 and the notified RP 2021, bringing in draconian eco tourism zones has never really been scrutinised and examined. The architects of the Regional Plan of 2021 have a lot to answer as well.

The larger point here is that the malaise of not tampering but butchering the planning process has been a joint venture of all parties and been the calling card of the powerful. For years, you were known to be powerful in Goa if you got land converted. Therefore the Congress, whose top brass showed up at the Lohia Maidan rally, hoping to be in tune with the people, came into the rally smirking but left the rally smarting. And in 24 hours some of them have threatened to file defamation cases against the very activists and people they had come to show solidarity with.

Therefore taking the high moral ground isn’t the option for most. And if TCP minister Vijai Sardesai has nothing to hide, he should open up all land changes across the board which involve politicians powerful individuals and institutions, however powerful they may be, (including his own) and make it public. Once the list is out, like the Panama papers, let everyone who is on that list give their case by case explanations for the people of Goa to buy or reject.

And while we are on it, let us make no mistake that the failure of planning land use extends to all  areas, especially the PDAs. There is no comprehensive vision plan, based on which ODPs are drawn PDAs only prepare ‘arbitrary’ ODPs and issue permissions on their basis.

Most importantly the 73rd and 74th amendment which should have been the guiding force behind all planning, specially for creating ODPs has been totally bypassed in the panning process, for more than a decade. Those who must be made accountable are all governments which aided and abetted the killing of Goa’s planning process.

The TCP minister can get confidence restored by withdrawing RP 2021 and start work on RP 2031 in manner which respects and abides 73rd and 74th amendments. He should announce one plan for the state with village specific requirements inserted though a visible and mandatory consultative process with the people. If any past project or conversion is still valid after this entire process, it will continue while the rest will have to be scrapped. Clearly a legislative as well as a judicial mandate later will be needed to push this through. But it’s well worth it.

The bottom line here is that there can be no holy cows or untouchables. If a process has started to name and shame, then let it play out in full, post which those who are really aggrieved can file defamation suits or if guilty, wait for their projects to be scrapped or worse, face more serious action for illegality and possible fraud.

Every instance or allegation of land conversion for personal benefit by individuals, politicians and institutions has to be investigated and acted upon. Goans will settle for nothing less than that.

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