Saving Coastal Goa

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The state can allow illegal structures only to its peril

The Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) has earned the ire of the National Green Tribunal yet again for failing to take action against the structures in the coastal areas which have been put up in gross violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone notification. The NGT has passed severe strictures against the GCZMA for the way of its functioning. It is disturbing to hear the NGT go to the extent of saying that the GCZMA had been rendering indirect help to the forces behind illegal constructions in violation of the CRZ notification. The GCZMA stands fully exposed in the eyes of the NGT. According to the green watchdog, it was with the conspiracy, aid and assistance of the GCZMA that the violators of law and polluters continued with their illegal activities in the coastal areas of Goa. The GCZMA has been found on the mat, with little explanation to offer on its failures to comply not only with NGT directions but also with several orders passed by the High Court and the Supreme Court asking it to take action against the violators of CRZ rules.

The GCZMA’s defence that there were appeals of the alleged violators pending, so it could not take a decision on the demolition of the illegal structures has not been found convincing. Litigation is the safest refuge of violators of law. The forces behind illegal constructions along the coast have used appeals to keep carrying on their business in illegal structures. It is relevant to refer to the NGT’s observation in this regard: “…We see that old cases are pending and no action is being taken by the GCZMA, and reply is not being filed.” Pendency of appeal could never be made a ground for non-compliance of the order by the GCZMA. What results from such non-compliance is that the illegal constructions continue to stand and that discourages reporting of and filing of complaints against illegalities. When people think the authorities set up for demolishing illegal structures are not doing it, justice loses, and the cause of environmental protection which is inherent and supreme in the CRZ rules loses.

There have been numerous violations of CRZ rules along the coast since the law came into force, but the state authorities have been mysteriously slow in acting against illegalities. Though the CRZ law has been specific, its implementation has been haphazard leading to many illegalities to surface with active connivance of the local politicians and inaction of the local and state authorities concerned. Failure of the GCZMA to act against illegalities along the coast has forced many people to knock the door of the NGT in a bid to stop their proliferation, especially for commercial gains. Besides passing strictures against the GCZMA, the green watchdog has also penalised a few violators who went on to file appeals on flimsy grounds to thwart action against their illegalities. The action, if any, by the officials has been selective and those “punished” for illegalities have been the ones who did not enjoy the patronage of the local bigwigs. It is high time that the authorities act in time so as to prevent concretisation of the coastal areas and save them for posterity.

This is not the first time that GCZMA has been rapped by the NGT. Last year it imposed a fine of Rs 1 crore for failing to act against illegal structures built at beaches identified as turtle nesting sites. The NGT censure should wake up the GCZMA into action. Let the GCZMA hang the following NGT observation in a frame on the walls of its office: “If a public functionary acts maliciously or oppressively and the exercise of powers results in harassment and agony then it is not an exercise of power, but it is abuse. No law provides protection against it. He who is responsible for it must suffer it. They are accountable for their behaviour before authorities created under the statute like the commission or the courts.” It remains to be seen whether these harsh words would propel the state government to act against guilty officials. After all, the issue is very vital for Goa. Without the protection of coastal areas, there would be no Goa.