The judgment of the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court, comprising Justices Gautam Patel and Nutan Sardesai quashing the order of the Ministry of Environment and Forests shifting Goa cases in NGT, Pune to Delhi, is an ode to Goa but more particularly to many of our dedicated and tenacious activists, who have been fighting endlessly to protect our environment and save Goa from a possible catastrophe and destruction. It is truly a most deserving tribute to these selfless people.
The arguments advanced by Goa Government to justify its request to MOEF are, to say, the least frivolous, ridiculous and preposterous. One of them was that “convenience” “accessibility” and location “within reasonable reaching distance” had to be considered. The learned Judges, however, bluntly asserted that these aspects were indeed to be considered but on behalf of the common man and the ordinary litigant and not of the Government which “is everywhere and can set up its infrastructure wherever it pleases”. The judgment adds: “If there is one thing that neither the State Govt. nor the MOEF did, at any stage, is to listen to the voice of the litigants.
The State Govt seems to have assumed that it has the authority, both moral and legal to speak for them all. That authority is not just questioned before us today. It is flatly denied”. It adds “At a time and in an age when Courts are considering branching out so that litigants are put to less inconvenience and less hardship, it strikes us as utterly extraordinary that any Government should, in the guise of its own inconvenience or convenience seek to shift a Tribunal several thousand kilometers away and then claim that this is for the greater public good. Indeed it is not. The Judges noted that the MOEF affidavit does not adduce or suggest any reason for the transfer of cases “other than the State Government’s request”.
The High Court‘s thrashing does not end there. It adds “Above all there is one overarching concern. This is an extraordinary State in more ways than one, a place where, more than anywhere else, sky, sea and earth meet…it is a land of abundant richness…and in a time of apparently incessant strife and discord it is still a mostly liberal land…a kind and gentle land of kind and gentle people…a land that given its small size and population has had a wholly disproportionate influence on our art, culture, language, music, architecture, history, design and more. Its greatest asset is one: its environment and its ecology… If the NGT in Pune has so very many cases from Goa it is not because or not just because the people of Goa are litigious, if true, that may only speak of their continued faith in the legal system and its processes…because they perceive that there is something of value here to protect…In our experience, we have seen a very large number of worthy causes. These are, after all struggles for a better tomorrow. …This is a land truly worth fighting for.”
Never before perhaps, did Judges shower so much praise on our land and also on our people. But it is here that we need to stop for a while and ponder. Surely Goa is a land worth fighting for but are we, the people of Goa worthy of this land? Or are we worthy of the struggles some of our sincere and dedicated sons and daughters of the soil are involved in, toiling day and night? Should they continue making these great sacrifices of time, energies and finances for us, who do not deserve them? Will not the benefit of these struggles “for a better tomorrow”, for our future generations, not be accrued to all? Yes, we need to ponder whether we are true Goans and whether we need to be reminded by a non Goan Judge that this is a land worth fighting for… This judgment truly has much to tell us, not alone to this incorrigible and despotic Government and its blind followers spinning around in support, but also to us fence sitters and selfish people with a “mhaka kiteak poddlam” attitude.
Above all the judgment is an indictment of the State Government and particularly of its CM, who apparently took the decision without consulting anyone. Further, it reminded him of how important environment is and the need to balance environment and development. It also demolishes his oft repeated accusation that activists are anti-development, which was surely the reason for the quashed shift. A responsible and sensible Government never allows anyone to violate safeguards and rules on environment and ecology and least of all permits its own functionaries to do it. It is a shame that the people of Goa need to be the watchdogs for such violations by the Government.
Parrikar can appeal against the order but at his own peril. Do I need to remind him of what the Supreme Court had to say on his decision to cancel the admission to PG medical courses in 2013 through NEET? It said: “The State of Goa and its functionaries have allowed ingress of systemic anarchy, throwing propriety to the winds possibly harbouring the attitude of utter indifference and nurturing an incurable propensity to pave the path of deviancy”. “It further referred to this act as “absence of common sense in an uncommon degree”, if Parrikar can stomach such strictures, he may go ahead.
(The author is a retired banker).