A government proposal to open up Goa’s agricultural and orchard lands for development of golf courses, motor racing tracks, among a host of other facilities has drawn widespread flak from civil society members, environmental activists and the state’s opposition parties.
The state’s town and country planning minister, Vishwajit Rane, had put up the proposal to amend the state’s Land Development and Building Construction Regulations for public feedback. The last date for submissions is September 29.
At the center of the controversy are proposed amendments to clause 6.A.3.1(i), which governs the kind of development that is allowed in zones A1 (agricultural) and A2 (orchard/natural reserve). So far, only agricultural activity and uses ancillary to agriculture — irrigation, pump and other electrical installations, biogas plants, farm houses, poultry, dairy, etc — were allowed in these lands.
Now, however, via the amendment the government has proposed to amend the clause for development of open-air sports, religious structures, golf courses, film cities, residential schools on these lands with the precondition that these buildings must “fulfil green certification by Indian Green Building Council”.
Those opposing the proposal have termed it “an undisguised smash and grab attempt” and a “backdoor entry for real estate developers … to convert this beautiful land.”
Rane, however, defended the proposal and accused his opponents of trying to “stifle economic growth and progress.”
The amendments also include other changes such as allowing a higher built-up area for high-end hotels, and areas defined as central business districts; regularization of illegal structures; and allowing for residential complexes in lands zoned as industrial.
Conservation architect Tahir Noronha said: “There are a total of 16 amendments that are proposed to the zoning code, of which, five are the most dangerous — regularization of illegal constructions; allowing mega constructions in agricultural lands; allowing for 400 floor-area ratio; and reducing the need for wide access roads for mega projects.”
“Earlier, only one type of construction was allowed in agricultural lands — small farm houses only in orchard lands and only to registered land tillers. Now, they are proposing to change the law to change the definition of a farm house to be 1,000 square meters. What this means is that a builder who could until now only purchase land zoned as settlement and build on that, can now purchase and build on fields and orchards in the name of farm houses,” he said.
“This is not all. Specific constructions like golf courses, on which 30% of the land can be built up on, film cities of 4-lakh square meters residential schools and yoga centers have also been allowed in agricultural lands,” he said.
The Goa Bachao Abhiyan, a collective of civil society organisations, hit out at the government’s proposal saying it was pandering to “big-ticket interests”.
“This is a hurried exercise guided by a committee of builders, liaison agents and the TCP minister (Rane) who is incidentally one of the largest landowners in Goa. The only focus is on increasing allowable built-up areas and an entry into Goa’s pristine villages and eco-zones at the cost of all citizens, except big ticket commercial interests. It is guaranteed to turn Goa into a random theme park-cum-party slum,” said the outfit in a statement.
The collective had successfully campaigned against a similar proposal by the state government in 2007.
Similarly, the Rainbow Warriors, a group of environmental activists whose petition in the Supreme Court led to even more stringent environmental measures at Goa’s second airport at Mopa, said: “amendments will open the gates for widespread destruction of the remaining green areas of Goa. .. and will displace Goans on an unprecedented scale.”
“Agricultural and eco-sensitive zones were protected until now, but this amendment proposes massive constructions with lakhs of sq m of built-up area within lands demarcated under RP 2021 as A1 and A2 zones, which include forests, mangroves, paddy fields, rivers and mudflats, orchards, natural cover, cultivable areas, salt pans, fish farms, under the garb of golf courses, film cities, film studios, etc,” the group said.
Opposition political parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and the Revolutionary Goans Party too have slammed the proposed changes.
“We staunchly oppose this. Today Goans cannot get proper water supply, a plot to build his house. The real estate lobby is funding the politicians who then bring out laws in their favour. But to bring one law that is in the interest of local residents the government has shown no enthusiasm,” Manoj Parab the leader of the Revolutionary Goans, said.
A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and MLA in the government also said that the proposal is unwelcome to the state. “The proposed amendments will be a focal point and serve as an easy target for the government, besides also being very unwelcome in a state like Goa,” said the MLA, asking not to be named.
Rane however, said that the government had ensured the state’s interests before floating the proposal. “While deciding which activities would be permitted, we took great care to ensure that these activities would not densify the areas and place additional burden on the state’s infrastructure. We have also focused on not causing any damage to the environment,” he said.
“As a developing country with progressive governance, we must be aware and practical, because lag will stifle economic growth and progress. Years ago, a few NGOs took to the streets to protest the entry of five-star hotels into the state… today, with our main financial backbone mining being shut, these very hotels are keeping the state’s finances afloat through tourism,” he added.
“We want a sustainable development model for the state that will help us progress in a balanced manner. By creating mere noise and clamor we will only leave the growth of our state stagnant, everyone has been given an option to file their objection and suggestion to the department. Whatever the experts decide, the Government will take it forward. We believe in a progressive state and sustainable development which will help us move in the right direction,” he added.
Goa has a long history of public participation and protests against government projects. In 2007, widespread opposition from the state had forced the government to scrap a controversial regional plan that sought to open up several new areas for real estate development.
Only 9.25% of the state’s geographical area is available for development, according to environment minister Nilesh Cabral’s recent comments in the assembly
“Out of the total geographical area of 3,702 sq. kms. of Goa, the State is hardly left with just 342 sq. kms area (only 9.25%), which can be made use for growth and development. The rest is Forest (Protected/Reserve/Private) including National Park & Wildlife sanctuaries amounting to 1,250 sq kms or 34.63% of Goa, Coastal Regulation Zone which amounts of 400 sq. kms or 10.8% of Goa, water bodies including rivers, lakes which is 216 sq. kms or 5.32% and Agriculture land which is 1480 sq. kms 40% of Goa,” Cabral had said.