Chaos reigns supreme at public hearings on draft CZMP

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MLAs Churchill Alemao, Vijai Sardesai and Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, and other participants seen during the public hearing on the draft coastal zone management plan at the Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, on Sunday.

All stakeholders were not allowed inside both the venues; participants call hearings ‘illegal’ and ‘farcical’ 

Panaji/Margao: Public hearings on the controversial draft  coastal zone management plan in both the districts were marred by chaos on Sunday,  as a large number of people were not allowed entry into the venues. 

People who attended the hearing called  it “illegal” and “farcical”, demanding  that villagers should be first educated on the draft CZMP and then hearings should be held in villages.

The public hearing was held at the Kala Academy for stakeholders of North Goa district and at  the Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, for people of South Goa district.

Activists, politicians, fishermen, shack owners and members of civil society expressed their discontent for not allowing all the stakeholders inside the venues.

People taking part at the hearing at the Kala Academy raised objection over the legality of the hearing being held when the poll code  is in force owing to the civic body elections.

They also questioned  the curtailment of  60-day notice period to 30 days for conducting the  hearing, demanding that hearings be held  in  villages.

The participants also vented their ire against the change in the hearing venue from the Taleigao community hall to the Kala Academy without giving any notice.

They put on the  mat  the team presiding the hearing   – member secretary of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority Dashrath Redkar and expert members Sujit Dongre and Mahesh Patil –  for conducting the hearing without allowing all the stakeholders to attend the event.

However, North Goa district collector Ajit Roy tried to pacify the crowd saying: “Today the government is not speaking but listening;  those who are absent can submit their objections to the GCZMA.”

As per the approved list, 73  people were registered as ‘speakers’ in the auditorium, while  three people were registered under ‘virtual mode’. Besides, 67 people were registered as ‘participants’ for  the public hearing.

However the North Goa collector’s office did not provide the updated list to the police, as a result most of the registered participants were not allowed entry into the venue.

Consequently many speakers  confronted the panelists, seeking an explanation on the legality of the hearing and reasons for not allowing all the participants inside the auditorium. 

They staged a protest for nearly four hours raising slogans inside the venue  and then walked out of it.  

Porvorim MLA Rohan Khaunte, who  attended the hearing, protested  at the way the  CZMP issue  has been handled by the government. Khaunte pointed out that the suggestions and objections given by Penha de Franca panchayat for the earlier 2019 draft CZMP do not reflect in the new draft.

He said that saltpans located along the Ribandar causeway have been reclassified from CRZ I to CRZ II.

BJP’s St Andre MLA Francisco Silveira also expressed his displeasure over the way the hearing was conducted.

“It is sad to see that people were not allowed to attend the hearing…,” Silveira said, adding that  the  draft CZMP shows the extension  of  port limits up to 50-60 metre beyond high tide line covering traditional fishermen houses.

The environment department will forward the proceedings of the public hearings at both the venues  to the state government for its recommendations and action plan.

The public hearing on the draft CZMP for South Goa was also marred by disarray.

A large number of people crowded at the entrance of the  Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, as they were denied entry into the hall as participants.

A total of 86 people were registered as ‘speakers’ and 70 people were registered as ‘participants’ for the hearing, which started at 10.30 am on Sunday.

The people attending the hearing persistently demanded that hearings should be held in villages rather that at the district level.

Demanding that the draft plan should be taken to every village, the speakers said that villagers should be first educated on the plan and then only the authorities should hold public hearings in the villages.

They also criticised the state administration for not allowing the voices of the people to be heard.

Additional district collector Surendra Naik, who presided over the hearing, urged the speakers to raise their objections and suggestions. 

The speakers at the hearing rejected the appeal, insisting that a public hearing should include members of the public.

Additional district magistrates Agnelo Fernandes and Gaurish Kuttikar, GCZMA expert members Savio Correia and Flaviano Miranda, scientist at the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management Dr Manik Mahapatra and deputy collector Snehal Prabhu were also part of the team presiding over the hearing.

Registering his protest, Goenchea Ramponnkarancho Ekvott president Olencio Simoes said, “…This entire hearing is illegal. Goa has to follow other states when calling a public hearing. Port limits are going to affect all fishermen, whose grievances must be heard. Postpone the meeting! Every stakeholder has the right to be present and raise their objections. Fishing communities, villages and water bodies are not shown on the plan…”

He also submitted a memorandum to the district authorities.

Similar objections were also raised by others present at the hearing including Viriato Fernandes of the Goencho Awaaz, activists Abhijeet Prabhudesai, Royla Fernandes, Avinash Tavares and others.

Several sarpanchas and panch members from villages, including Betalbatim, Chinchinim, Colva, Velsao, Varca and Ambelim, were also present.

Lending support to people’s demands, Opposition leader Digambar Kamat and MLAs Churchill Alemao, Vijai Sardesai and Reginaldo Lourenco made their presence felt at the hearing.

The legislators exhorted the authorities to postpone the hearing. 

“You have called a public meeting but the definition of a public meeting is that each and every person has the right to raise objections. This appears to be a private hearing,” Kamat said, demanding scrapping of the hearing and starting the whole process again.

Alemao demanded that the plan should be explained to villagers and thereafter hearings should be held in villages.

Lourenco urged the government not to connive with vested interests, but be fair to the people.

Commenting on the public hearing, Sardesai said, “What is a public hearing without the public! The CZMP is a fraud by the CM and this meeting is a farce. If the Goan  people are not allowed to get in then this is not a public hearing.”

The speakers, who had registered for the hearing, refused to speak at the podium in protest despite their names being called out.

Although the speakers refused to speak at the hearing, additional district collector Naik said the hearing would continue till its stipulated time at 5 pm.

The minutes of the hearing were read out and the event was wound up at 5.30 pm.