Sunday, March 8, 2009

CRZ violations in Goa - law catching up?

The law was Goa coastal regulation zoneclear on this one for a long time. No constructions within 200 metres of the high tide level. Yet people in Goa willingly made their own abodes of living. Some extended the old houses .Some converted them into dens of merriment and fun for tourists. Others transformed them into restaurants and eateries. Some others made beautiful guest houses to rent out to foreigners and themselves preferred to stay in smaller hutments.

It was a free for all. Not many questions were asked. No answers needed. Some even called the CRZ as their own "carelessly regardless zone". But one day the worst news came hitting hard. The high court passed an order under the CRZ rules instructing Panchayats to identify and demolish these constructions within 200 metres of high tide line from a cut-off date of February 19, 1991" (the date on which the CRZ came into force).

The whole initiation to identify and act against CRZ regulation violators began in 1996 and in July 2006 taking cognizance of a suo moto petition, the High Court directed the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) to expedite and finalise pending CRZ violations and to the Directorate of Settlement and Land Records (DSLR) to complete identification of HTL and mapping of structures in 0-200 metres No Development Zone (NDZ) from the High Tide Level (HTL) on cadastral level maps.

Subsequent to the exercise of identification carried out by DSLR and GCZMA, on the 26th of September 2007, the  High Court  directed each coastal village panchayat and municipality to identify structures in respect of which the CRZ authorities had initiated action.

The said authorities were asked to issue notices to the illegal structures and take a decision on them within 90 days of serving the notice.

However in January 2009, the High court observed the slipshod attitude of the panchayat bodies who had issued blanket demolition structures within the No development zone without considering the legality or traditional inhabitation of the structures. This prompted the high court to warn the Panchayat bodies on their slipshod action and especially for their lack of will for not heeding to the directions of the high court.

Further on 21st January 2009 the High court issued show cause notices to these Panchayat authorities as to why the proceedings under the contempt of court should not be initiated against them and pointed out that the sarpanchas and their secretaries shall be personally held responsible for not complying with the directives of the high court.

According to the CRZ Regulations, areas which fall in a zone up to 200 metres from the HTL in CRZ- III are No Development Zones’. Such areas are not permitted any permanent constructions except for repairs of existing authorised structures not exceeding existing plinth area and density.

However the unwillingness of the panchayat bodies to act against their voters seems to be the main reason for the entire problem since the panchayat bodies may themselves have members who have such structures besides many such structures receiving political patronage.

The village panchayats have been served with the onus of identifying these violators and the responsibility of demolition has also been given to these panchayats. However plenty of vestedGoa CRZ interests especially among the political class of Goa, perhaps inspired by the promulgation of the ordinance issued by the Digamber Kamat government to protect the Cidade de Goa, are attempting to subvert the orders of the High Court by infusing a sense of reluctance on the panchayats to demolish illegal structures which fall in the no development zone of the Coastal Regulation Zone.

On 16th February the high court ordered the arrest of the sarpanch and secretary of the Velsao-pale panchayat for failing to be present in the court despite its instructions on the same. It was the date of hearing regarding a suo moto petition regarding  illegal structures that have come up in the no development zone (NDZ), in violation of the 1991 CRZ notification.However the court later cancelled the non-bailable warrant issued against them after the duo surrendered and apologised to the court.

The Division Bench expressed its unhappiness that  not a single illegal construction   built in NDZ after 1991,    has been  demolished and that   coastal  panchayats are still stuck with issuing show cause notices which have been issued to all irrespective of merit.

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