State authorities should correct the wrongs pointed by people
IN what can be described as a healthy public participation in the planning and development process the village panchayats of South Goa have begun studying the draft coastal zone management plan (CZMP). While some panchayats have been trying to understand the draft plans themselves, others have sought the help of experts in understanding it. The panchayats want to prepare themselves so that they could give their suggestions and objections during the public hearing scheduled for July 7 to decide on the CZMP, which despite missing several deadlines has not yet been finalized. The panchayats have found that there were many anomalies in the draft plan, including marking of borders, existence of houses in their jurisdiction, omission of activities of fishing communities, etc. Unlike in the past when villagers and panchayats in several cases opposed drafts and projects on emotional grounds this time around they want to offer suggestions and objections based on understanding of the facts and have hence sought help of experts.
While most village panchayats have begun the process of studying the draft CZMP, the villagers of Loutolim have accused the state and central governments of cheating Goans and forcing people to accept a faulty plan. A special gram sabha of Loutolim village panchayat on Sunday termed the draft plan as a farce. They resolved to launch a signature drive to demand scrapping of the public hearing scheduled on July 7. Their contention is that the draft plan does not show existing houses on the banks of the River Zuari at Loutolim. It also does not include fishing activities in the area even though a lot of villagers are involved in fishing and dependent on it. They have also pointed out to gross negligence on the part of Chennai based National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) that prepared the draft plan, which has shown the River Zuari as River Mandovi. How could a consultancy firm which claims to be expert in the field make such a blunder, which can derail the whole process and delay finalisation of CZMP?
The state has been dragging its feet on finalization of CZMP even though NCSCM had submitted draft plan to it on May 9, 2017. Following allegations of gross mistakes in the draft plan, the state authorities sought the help of consultants to rectify them. Accordingly a team of two scientists of the agency visited Goa in November last year for ground “truthing” and submitted a “corrected” draft plan, which now has been found to still be faulty. Though the scientists had made a presentation of their findings and the content of the plans to the legislators from the coastal areas and ministers, it is apparent that none of them could spot the faults. It is amazing that while leaders and officials failed to notice the anomalies, commoners could find them. Were the leaders just trying to convey to the people that they were really interested in their welfare by attending much publicized presentation? It appears that the whole exercise was carried out to please the voters and convey to them that their interests were being protected.
The gross faults alleged by the people could be genuine and the government should take all precautions to correct them in the finalized plan worth over Rs 1,200 crore, else they would have disastrous effect on environment. The best way for the government to take people on board and seek their cooperation in finalizing the CZMP would be to hear them out, address the concerns raised by them, correct the mistakes and offer proper explanation by experts of intricacies which may be beyond common persons understanding. The public hearing is less than two weeks away and the authorities would need to work overtime to allay the fears raised by the people. Since the CZMP deals with the livelihoods of the people all efforts should be made to ensure that proposed legal framework does not deprive them of their sources of income. The authorities should draw up a comprehensive plan with people’s participation and ensure that there was no scope left in the plan for unscrupulous people to manipulate it and resort to illegalities in the future.