Goa must conduct free and fair public hearings on CZMP
THE plan of the state government to push through the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) hurriedly apparently has failed to find favours with the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The NGT has directed the Goa government to conduct fresh public hearings to finalise the CZMP and set August 31, 2021 as the date for finalisation of the plan. The NGT had earlier set January 31, 2021 as the date for finalisation of the plan but extended it on the request of the state government after it failed to complete the process. The principal bench of the NGT headed by Adarsh Kumar Goel has directed the state to issue the notice for public hearing within a week and told the state authorities that the public hearings be completed within a month’s time from the date of notice. The NGT has also asked the GCZMA, which oversees the finalisation of the plan, to specify modalities in the notice for conducting the public hearing and allow written objections to be filed, to be supplemented by public hearing of specified duration.
Ever since the draft CZMP was prepared by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), Chennai – an agency approved by the Centre — it has been wrapped in a controversy. The draft was widely criticised by village communities, civil society groups and political parties (including some from the ruling BJP) which forced the authorities to make changes. There has been discontentment over a number of issues, including the duration to respond to the draft, rezoning of beach areas and attempt to accommodate newer illegal constructions, while ignoring the claims of traditional fishermen and others who have been living in the coastal areas for decades. It is surprising to note that the CZMP that has been in the making for seven years has not yet been completed. Had the government shown sincerity in finalising the plan and gone as per the rules the same could have been completed long ago and illegalities thereon could have been prevented. Development in the areas should be according to the rules and not according to the wishes of vested interests.
After much delay, the government submitted the “finalised” plan to the NGT last month, which was challenged by an NGO stating that the process in conducting public hearing was farcical. It was brought to the notice of the national green body that the government changed the venue of the public hearing held on March 7, 2021, at the last moment. It was also contended by the NGO that 60-day notice was not given prior to conducting the public hearing and that restriction was placed on the number of participants at the venue. Besides, each speaker was given just five minutes to make his or her submission, which was grossly inadequate. The government defended the restrictions citing prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic. However, its defence on last-minute change of venue citing that the venue was booked by some other party exposed how casually the authorities were in deciding the venue for public hearing on an important issue. Interestingly, the government had claimed to have successfully concluded the public hearings.
The NGT expressed anguish over such last-minute change and said that the last-minute change in venue certainly caused prejudice in the conduct of the public hearing. The bench also said that since 80 per cent of the population will be affected by the CZMP, the GCZMA should ensure that there are no errors in the plan. The NGT has, however, said that two venues with adequate capacity may be specified which may not be changed. It has gone on to add that, if necessary, the public hearing may be continued for more than a day. The green body has directed the GCZMA that the representations of all sections of affected people may be ensured without rendering the situation unviable so as to give a reasonable opportunity to all concerned sections during the public hearing. Now that clear-cut directions have been issued by the NGT to the authority concerned, let us hope that the process for finalisation of the much-delayed CZMP is set in motion at earliest and is completed well ahead of the scheduled date.