Goa government on March 16 notified the Goa Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Act, 2023, setting off the possibilities for unhindered construction in the rural landscape of the State with permissions deemed granted if the panchayat and the Block Development Officer (BDO) fail to respond to the application within 60 days.
The amendment envisages, “If a Panchayat does not, within a period of thirty days from the date of receipt of the application… determine whether such permission should be given or not and communicate its decision to the applicant, the Secretary shall forward the application to the Block Development Officer… If the Block Development Officer fails to determine whether such permission should be given or not and communicate his decision to the applicant within a period of thirty days from the date of intimation by the Secretary or receipt of the appeal, immediately upon expiration of such a period of thirty days, such permission shall be deemed to have been granted to the applicant to execute the work.”
The government’s stated objective for the amendment is “to create a transparent and efficient mechanism to streamline the process of grant of permissions, licenses and occupancy certificates under the said Act”.
However, in a bid to create a transparent and efficient mechanism, the only change the government has incorporated from the original law, is that instead of putting the onus of finally granting or rejecting the permission on the Deputy Director of Panchayats it has now been shifted to the shoulders of the BDO if the panchayat body drags its feet on the application. In addition, the secretary of the respective panchayat is duty-bound to accept the fees for construction or renovation applied for after the 60 days period as the permission is deemed granted.
The bill was passed earlier this year during the winter session of the Assembly, on January 18, and on the same day the Goa Regularization of Unauthorized Construction (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was also passed providing an additional 90 days period for applications for any unauthorized construction carried out before February 28, 2014. Both the bills were passed by show of strength in the Assembly and with the Governor’s assent, the amendment bills have now become laws.
A closer scrutiny of the two laws is necessary and the amendments in the two Acts if taken together will unleash precedence for large-scale unauthorized and illegal construction in the rural landscape of the State. Once a project receives technical clearance from the Town and Country Planning Department - unless the panchayat or the BDO specifically rejects the application - the construction is bound to proceed. The only remedy that remains later is to challenge the construction and demand a demolition, which is a far-fetched reality to dream about. The case in example is the ongoing tussle to demolish the alleged illegal bungalow constructed at Old Goa within the close vicinity of the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Under the original Act, the failure to communicate the decision by the Panchayat over the application was deemed ‘remiss’ in the performance of duties by the Panchayat. However, the amendment neither implies that the panchayat or the BDO to have failed in their duty nor has the government found it fit to penalise the panchayat or the BDO for the dereliction of duty.
The real estate lobby, as well as individuals are seemingly vying to take away a share of the rural land pie in the form of commercial establishments or individual as well as multi-dwelling complex projects. With the current provision and no clause or caveat to holding any elected representative or officer responsible, the government has opened the gateway for rampant construction in the garb of ‘permission deemed granted’ in the green zones of Goa.