25 Feb 2024  |   05:32am IST

Judiciary is last port of call for goan fighting against the system

From mining to illegal constructions in villages of Goa to violation of Coastal Regulatory Zone norms, noise pollution or illegal river sand mining, the State administration seems to be faltering every time. With nowhere else to go for help, the people of Goa are forced to seek legal recourse every time as a last recourse and fortunately, the judiciary has also given rulings in favour of the common people, who tend to be the litigants. These litigants are aggrieved with the government’s policies, which are most of the time not in sync with the ground realities. Worse, the government cares less about the people’s grievances. In the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA discusses the implications of this trend and analyses what it means for the people
Judiciary is last port of call for goan fighting against the system

he underlying trend in Goa is that the people are knocking on the doors of the judiciary for every issue. The fact is the judiciary along with sections of the responsible media seem to be the only pillars a offer some hope, succour and solace to people who are agitating for protecting their land. All the issues that we will take up today or in the future and taken up earlier, are not personal.

They are not about neighbours fighting, property disputes between brothers and so on and so forth. Each and every issue that we have taken up and people have discussed, have nothing to do with personal interests of anybody or any organisation which is agitating. This is all to do with destruction of our land, our forests, and our ecosystems and so on and so forth and that is where the crux of the matter lies. 

The multiple petitions filed in the court, many matters taken up suo moto by the court - all of them are testament to one underlying fact that the judiciary has become the last port of call, at times first port of call, because no other doors seem to be opening when they are knocked, that is what we need to take cognizance of.

The three major issues that have dominated the headlines in the recent past are - the glaring wide scale illegalities in constructions. We have seen in the case of Anjuna and Arambol. In fact, the High Court of Bombay at Goa had ordered demolition of 175 illegal structures under Anjuna panchayat. Even after the High Court order, there is a lot of resistance against it. 

CM Pramod Sawant announced his intention to challenge the High Court order directing the sealing of 175 structures operating in the No Development Zone (NDZ) before the Supreme Court. The government has also asked the affected parties to file an intervention petition in the High Court for interim justice. According to Sawant, the move aims at extending a helping hand to locals’ structures which have legal construction and business licences.

One has actually seen that these illegal structures are not ordinary structures, they are actually large scale business establishments that are functioning without the consent to operate and without any kind of licenses. Many of these establishments are also under scrutiny for noise pollution cases. 

We have also seen the dramatic manner in which the ODPs of Calangute, Candolim, Arpora, Nagoa and Parra were suspended by the High Court since “large-scale illegalities” were suspected. There is agitation happening in Old Goa against the construction of an alleged illegal bungalow in the heritage precincts. 

The latest battle is on this whole issue of a resort which is coming up and that has again become an issue. In every case, the government has failed in discharging its duties and the judiciary had to be 


 In the whole Outline Development Plan (ODP) issue, in 2022 the ODPs of Calangute, Candolim, Arpora, Nagoa and Parra were suspended because of large-scale grave emergencies. In June 2022, the Member Secretary of the North Goa Planning and Development Authority (PDA), R K Pandita, as per the directions of a Review Committee which was constituted to look into these illegalities, filed a report to the Chief Town Planner (CTP), essentially saying on all these zoning and conversion changes were very serious because he had indicted key officials and politicians in directly supervising these zone changes through verbal orders.

But what did the courts say about this communication? It said, “This communication (Mr Pandita’s letter to the CTP where he talks about the zonal changes) makes very depressing reading. The communication gives a glimpse into the preparation of ODPs of these five villages and the extent of illegalities involved in their preparation.”

These are the Court’s words and then the Review Committee that looked into these illegalities, presented its report. One would assume that with so many illegalities, the suspension of these ODPs would be formalised and the suspension would be intensified into scrapping them completely. But what happened, instead of suspension, they were partly revived. This is the irony of the situation.

Then of course, the Goa Foundation said that out of 434 survey numbers, 401 were illegal. Then of course, suddenly after all this, on December 13, 2022 all the ODPs got approved. So from suspension to approval via the Review Committee, which actually says illegalities are happening, the irony and arrogance of this decision making is evident. 

Then what happens is, after the ODPs were approved, three days later, one notification comes, where the government withdraws from these ODPs, which means reverting back to the Regional Plan. 

The next direction states that the scrapped ODPs were there. Then convert to a Regional Plan. Five days later, the government says that the earlier approved ODPs will be followed for all conversions. So this is literally a joke. First you approve the ODP, then you withdraw and then you say follow the same ODP. All happens in a span of little over one week. The court took cognizance of all this. 

In a strong indictment of the TCP, the court remarked that this was done “Prima facie as a backdoor subterfuge to reinstate the ODPs and suspend RP 2021.” Without the court intervening, what would have been the situation in the sense that the court has to come again and again to people’s rescue? In the sense, is there any other way apart from the court helping?

Adv Om D’Costa said the chronology of events laid out is as peculiar and complicated as it sounds because what happened is, in April 2022, when they suspended the ODPs on account of “grave emergency”, as stated in the Gazette notification, they formed this Review Committee, which submitted its report in July ‘22, pointed out the massive illegalities and discrepancies in the report and listed around 434 survey numbers, which according to them were wrongly or illegally zoned, contrary to the Regional Plan.

“The government in August 2022 accepts this report, notified it in the Gazette saying, it accepted this report and was suspending these two ODPs of Calangute. Then they set up another committee to look at and perhaps rectify these changes and see how these reports could be incorporated into the Regional Plan. The first major issue is, after this process, the ODP which was notified on December 13, 2022, had the exact same problem as what the Review Committee has found,” Adv D’Costa said.

“So, of the 434 changes which were highlighted by the Review Committee, 401 were retained in the so-called new ODPs as well. This was the first problem. The second problem is, merely three days after this new ODP is published, the planning areas of Arpora, Parra, Calangute and Candolim are withdrawn,” he said.

“Now, as per the scheme of the Town Planning Act, once you withdraw an area as a Planning Area, you have to revert to the Regional Plan because ODP only applies to planning areas. So at this point, without the circular coming into force you would have to go by the original plan for all proposals,” D’Costa said.

“For reasons best known to the government, within a week on December 23, the Chief Town Planner issued a circular, directing the North Goa district office for all proposals which are considering conversion, subdivision, technical clearance and follow the ODPs notified on December 13. This was a very peculiar situation because once your planning areas are withdrawn, ODPs no longer apply. But at the same time, the CTP told the office to follow those ODPs,” the lawyer said.

But the question is, how can a circular supersede a notification?

“That is exactly the question which the court considered and that is why perhaps the court made a comment that this seems to be a backdoor method of ensuring that the ODPs apply to the areas, which are not planning areas,” he said.

“Now to answer the question as to what would have been the recourse, we did try making a representation to the government. We wrote to the Chief Town planner pointing out the problems with this particular circular and informing him that this is not correct as per law. As usual, we did not get any response, which seems to be the case in most of our petitions. If the court had not intervened and passed this order, the government would have continued to pass orders under these ODPs, magnifying the same inconsistency found by the Review Committee,” he said.

“You've got residential areas being changed to commercial zones, eco-sensitive no development zones and orchards being changed to settlements, tenanted fields being changed to settlement and a whole lot of other issues, so that would have been a chaos to say the least,” Adv D’Costa said.

When asked about thoughts on where is the whole planning system collapsing, architect

Arminio Ribeiro said, “I think to begin with there’s no planning. The other part is that the participatory mechanism is almost dismantled. The planning and development authorities are engaging with groups who have got interest in real estate. They’ve got interest in manipulating the whole thing (system) to favour themselves and to get whatever they want over there.”

“So this is basically where everything goes wrong. Besides that, all the regulations are constantly being interfered with. Yeah, so if you ask me, I think in the last couple of years, we have had something like four or five amendments in the Act. They’ve been putting out regulations, withdrawing them and again putting out - so there is a 

definite failure from the government side,” Ribeiro said.

“And now it seems that they have been completely overtaken by these interest groups, and are dictating terms to the government. See, failure to take planning seriously is still wrong. It is a betrayal of the people’s mandate,” he added.

Is there a thought that let the matter go to court and drag on? Ultimately the court will come down at some point of time, but will we buy this time?

“I think it is correct. I won’t be surprised if number of files which are waiting for the zone change, are approved in a very short span of time and the construction is completed hastily, so that it meets those deadlines that they understand would be the time by which the court would turn around and act against those cases,” Ribeiro said.

Reacting to the conversation, RTI activist Sriram Raiturkar said, “The system has become OTM - one time money. Change the zones for five years and make so much money that even their grandchild can survive. Now, as far as Margao is concerned, it is already saturated. Only agriculture and Comunidade lands are there. Now what they do is that while taking all the inputs from the various departments, it is never taken from the Agriculture department.”

Regarding Margao CRZ, he said that a project has been approved in which River Sal has been shown as a nullah to avoid the construction restriction.

Speaking about Margao ODP, Raiturkar said that every time a new person comes, the chairman is always the MLA or Minister from the ruling party and makes changes. ODP should be for 10 years. They see that ODP is prepared and they take the help of Section 39(1). 

“We state that it is only for minor changes in public interest, you cannot change the zone. Then they go on changing these zones. There is one mischief they have been playing for the last so many years. Under Section 35, objections should be invited from the general public. In the Gazette, they put suggestions. That means everyone can suggest,” the RTI activist said.

“Now ODP is prepared by experts. They know the density population traffic

Management. Now, I have to only object. That this is not proper. I cannot suggest that you make my zone a Commercial Zone. That’s why they add suggestions. The word suggestion is nowhere in the Act. You can only object. I want my plot settled in the Commercial Zone because it will fetch me more price. But there is no scope for suggestions. The entire process will be defeated,” he said.

The Supreme Court in September had issued a notice because the citizen activists had filed a filed a petition and had basically challenged the order of High Court, which essentially squashed the demolition order of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The ASI had said this illegal bungalow which was coming up, needed to be demolished. 

The high court quashed that particular order on the grounds that that everybody should be given a given a chance to respond and everybody’s point of view has to come in. 

Then of course the Supreme Court decided to issue notice, but it has not yet quashed the high court order. 

Speaking about this Old Goa agitation and the number of doors that she had to knock before finally knocking the door of the court, social activist Ana Gracias said, “To tell you the truth, the entire situation is in a mess. People are blaming the panchayat for all this right now. Any project first comes to the TCP actually. They are the people who go on giving the permissions.”

“All the permissions are granted by the TCP, they send a technical team to see and observe which place this bungalow is coming up. Now, are these people blind? They are violating CRZ rules. They had to take into consideration the CRZ rules and not permit the construction of this bungalow,” Gracias said.

“This justifies the notion that there is something going on between the builder and the officials, who have visited the site and have given permission to construct. Now regarding these permissions also there is a complaint saying that it has been obtained by these people and is forged. A complaint was already lodged at the police station as well as the panchayat,” she said.

“Now I want to ask the government why action was not taken  because this was clear cut forgery, which the owners themselves said.

“The owners went to the police station and claimed that their signatures were forged. Now, in spite of these complaints, why didn’t the police and the panchayat act against it? I was the one who sat for the protest for 26 days. I realised that I was just wasting time because my cry won’t be heard,” she said.

“I moved out and filed an RTI application. I found this document. Now we have recently under the guidance of advocate Sahil S Desai, lodged a complaint at the Old Goa police station and you know the reply I got was ‘the matter is closed’. I’ve knocked on the doors of SP, Panjim police station, the IGP, everywhere. But my cry was not heard. Then automatically I had to go to the court. That is how we activists have to knock on the doors of the court,” she said.

In Anjuna, the High court has finally ordered the sealing of the 175 illegal structures. But what is most interesting here is that it almost seems that the Anjuna panchayat is hand-in-glove with the illegal establishments, rather than with the people. That is the cry we are getting from the people there, because the issue is that the High Court order very clearly talks about the role played by the panchayat and that is why we keep on going back to the High Court because it is the one that seems to be speaking the voice of the people always. 

What is interesting here is that these 175 structures were asked to be demolished as none of them had any permissions, any licenses and other such issues. But after the court first ordered that these demolitions have to happen, for almost one year the panchayat did not even act on it. 

Shockingly, there were three resolutions passed by the panchayat which actually resolved not to go ahead with the show cause notices given to these structures and that is where the surprising part was that the panchayat actually withdraws from giving show cause notices after being directed by the high court to do it.

In April 2023, the court again took cognizance of this inaction for over a year by the panchayat and set aside these resolutions that the panchayat took and asked the latter to issue fresh notices. 

Throwing more light on the ground situation regarding this case, activist Ravi Harmalkar said, “Basically, if you talk about the illegalities, around 20 years ago, there used to be livelihood. Goans living in the coastal belt were dependent on foreign tourists. There used to be business for six months, which provided livelihood to the locals. There weren’t any violations then.”

After some years Indian tourists started coming here. Since then, livelihood has become business. The outsiders started investing in Goa by building structures. 

“Outsiders came and invested here in Goa. They came with the money and first targeted the CRZ. They got nod from the panchayats as they got

their share. Now there is too much commercialisation and everything has vanished. This is not just the case of Anjuna, it is the situation in the whole coastline, especially North Goa,” Harmalkar said.

“Many of the establishments though are in the name of Goans, they have been leased to outsiders for hefty rent of Rs 5 lakh or 10 lakh. The tenants have to recover the money. So they conduct loud music parties, causing a lot of hardships to the locals,” he said.

“Ever since the matter is in the court, there is some kind of control. Court monitoring has helped to some extent,” he said.

A lot of disturbing trends have emerged from this debate. But the positive part is of course, the court is one door which when you knock and it opens up to give justice. But the worrying part is even after that, justice comes is denied after it is given and that is worrying. 

However, that doesn't actually take anything away from the valiant efforts and commitment of people, who are litigating and other people are also on the streets and who are while supporting, because Goa of course has an ecosystem of destruction. 

But it also has a very strong ecosystem of warriors against destruction. So the thing is, while there’s a lot that has been destroyed in Goa, there is a lot that has been saved so far because of the warriors.

So not all is gone and raising of voices through litigations will hopefully lead to some people in the political ecosystem understanding it and responding.

But what is important to know here is that the courts are again and again coming and rescuing us. However, the courts also are overburdened. They cannot solve all the cases. Over a period of time, a lot of time gets lapsed. So justice is not delayed because of any ill intention of the court, but purely because of the practicality of the situation.

The fact that in spite of so much of despondency and disappointment, the fight is still going on is actually a reflection of some kind of hope and let us also hope that the dream of having a unified platform, a unified umbrella organisation and everybody fighting together and of course there are people to guide them. We have to go inside the system to change that. 


Iddhar Udhar