26 May 2023  |   05:03am IST

Goa Needs Your Help

Blaise Costabir

We are still fighting to save the ‘Mandovi’. Karnataka’s election carrot became Goa’s poison. We cannot lose this fight because it will be the death of our life line, meaning death of Goa. 

Even as this fight goes on, there is another dark cloud on the horizon.  The Town and Country Planning (TCP) department has decided to amend the rules and has asked citizens to give their objections in 30 days. That deadline ends on 26th May 2023, even as you read this, it will be your last chance to log in your objections. Will the Government heed the objections is another matter. 

Since an earlier amendment, 16B in on hold, another notification directly amending the TCP Act, Section 17 - Sub Section 2, aka 17(2) was introduced. Basically, old wine in a new bottle. This allows land owners to apply to the TCP for a Zone rectification if they feel there is a mistake in the current zoning of their property. Once the application is received the TCP will change the zone. Ease of doing business, misinterpreted. Try getting your plans approved as quickly as this. 

Within three weeks of this notification, the new owner of orchard lands in Morjim, applied under 17(2) and 62,000 sqm of land was changed from orchard to settlement. Pretty fast tracked by any means. Earlier, the party had approached the TCP for a zone change but it was rejected as it was nowhere close to any settlement in Morjim. More importantly, the owner had started development (read hill cutting) and road building a year before 17(2) was made official. 

Imagine the conversation, when the owner purchased this 62,000 sqm of land. Sir, it is orchard land, you cannot develop it. He would have answered do not worry, in Goa everything is possible. And he is proved right, instead of taking action for hill cutting in orchard land, the TCP has brought an amendment which specifically benefits him, wah TCP wah! 

Unfortunately, he was too confident and released a promotional video even before the change in zone was done, thus letting the cat out of the bag. 

The TCP has announced the ‘Goa Land Development and Building Construction (Amendment) Regulations 2023’ and have given 30 days time for citizens to file objections. First what is the need for amendments without pressing concerns or huge established issues that are troubling citizens at large? The normal time is 60 days, why the hurry? What is so important that sufficient time is being denied?

However, given the trust deficit the TCP department enjoys, it is no surprise that citizens across the board are up in arms and rightly so. In August 2022, they brought out 17 amendments which were withdrawn due to public outcry. Now they have put 11 on the table, no less destructive that the earlier 17.

The task force set up to formulate the ‘Draft Regional Plan 2021” did a thorough study and had consultations with different stakeholders before recommending the current regulations and zones. Why are amendments 

being proposed without any background, consultation or demand from the public?

The amendments effect zones A1 and A2 (eco sensitive zone), which are not supposed to be touched or changed. These amendments seem to suggest that agricultural lands can be used for purposes other than agriculture, example: yoga centre. Why ‘yoga centre’? From where did that come? What happens when the yoga guru decides to sell? Does the land become a field again or does it continue as someone’s home, ie a dwelling unit in a field, saltpan or even wild life sanctuary, which is normally prohibited?

Then there is regularisation of illegal construction bigger than 500 sqm. Was there a clamour for such a relaxation, does it mean anyone can construct illegally and then regularise? Why did they feel it necessary to allow farmhouses of 1,000 sqm from existing 500 sqm and that too in paddy fields? Is this for farmers, builders or those who have constructed illegally? 

Has industry made representations to increase residential housing within an industrial plot?  What happens about disposal of domestic waste with increased residences in estates, and panchayats do not collect waste? 

Reduced road widths to construct multi dwelling units or hotels, are also part of the amendments. The drafting leaves a lot open to interpretation on a case to case basis. Where does one get power and water required to support this proposed increased development areas?

In sum, the amendments tinker with words or sentences, here and there but the ramifications are deep and do not bode well for Goa.

For starters it is time to relook holistically at RP2041 rather than adhoc piece meal changes to RP 2021 as it is past its best before date. The 73rd Amendment does put a lot of power into electoral wards. They have to form a committee of 5 or 6 members with a pancha as member and make a plan for the electoral ward. They can say what development they want in the ward. This may stop the TCP giving permission to a 20 villa development with a swimming pool in each villa.

The ward plans can become a plan for the panchayat and panchayat plans for the district and district plans for the State plan. This will be easier said than done because which ward will declare a tiger sanctuary, a wetland or a forest even if it exists as these features put a lot of restrictions on land use which is the key. Therefore, where land use is restricted like in case of a private forest, the owner should get compensated in terms of ‘transfer development rights (TDR)’. Once accepted the land gets locked for any further development and the owner can use his TDR in a permitted development. This will take the pressure of land owners to change zones and TCP to pass amendments to facilitate the same. 

Hope good sense prevails and Goa’s eco-sensitive areas are spared for future generations.

(The author prefers to write rather than chat in a balcao)



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