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No Control Yet On Land Conversions

While the state government has failed to finalise a Regional Plan for almost two decades, it has been very quick in setting up planning and development authorities (PDAs).  The Town and Country Planning (TCP) Board has given approval for creation of two PDAs in North Goa – first, Greater Panaji PDA, which is to be carved out of the existing North Goa PDA, and the second, Mopa PDA for the notified planning area of Mopa. The Greater Panaji PDA will include Taleigao, Bambolim and Kadamba plateau areas. The Mopa PDA will include the area where a greenfield airport is coming up. The TCP board has decided to bring the areas with sufficient infrastructure like roads and other connectivity under the ambit of PDAs. The overt objective of creation of PDAs is to ensure proper planning but many see at least the creation of Greater Panaji PDA as a likely reward to a powerful politician who ditched Congress in a crucial situation. People of Goa have a right to ask the rationale and hurry for new PDAs when not much has moved on Regional Plan. TCP Minister Vijay Sardessai needs to fulfill his promise in the last session of the Assembly that RP 2021 would be scrapped and Regional Plan 2030 would be framed within six months.

In the absence of a finalized Regional Plan arbitrary conversions of land use have been taking place on a rampant scale. According to TCP board itself, more than 20 lakh square metres of orchard land has been converted to settlement zone. The board has threatened to amend the TCP Act to make such conversions a criminal offence with punishment up to one year in jail.

The TCP board cannot be unaware that most of conversions have been possible only with the active connivance of local politicians and officers. The public will eagerly await the amendment by the board and rigorous implementation of the amendment to book all those responsible for conversions of orchard land, including the politicians and officers. Politicians might not have left behind any evidence against themselves, but the officers who connived could be caught and punished.  The apprehension is that the law enforcement officials might get at the throat of the few persons without high connections who were forced to convert their orchard land to build a home for themselves as they found the process of obtaining approval from the PDAs and other government agencies too difficult and cumbersome.

The TCP Minister has said that the common man would not be affected by the proposed amendment: the government would offer amnesty till March 31, 2018, for those who want to legalise their illegal conversions. Let us hope the amnesty does not turn into another money making racket for politicians and officers, although, according to the minister, the TCP board is going to decide each case “on merit.” The approval can however be selectively given. It is likely that those who have the means to win the approval of the TCP authorities could manage to get their illegality condoned, while the rest would be denied permission and their conversions undone. Will the government set well-defined parameters for legalising orchard land conversions?

The illegalities regarding land that have been taking place in the state are because of the failure of the state to make a sound regional plan and lay down clear-cut guidelines to the PDAs for approval of constructions. The TCP department in particular and the government in general should make all efforts to make a new regional plan. PDAs were formed in the early 1980s to prepare comprehensive development plans (CDPs), as required under Section 31 of the TCP Act. The TCP department had directed all PDAs to prepare the CDPs by a directive issued on May 18, 2010 but seven and half years down the line nothing has been done. There have been allegations from various quarters that PDAs had created a nexus between politicians, builders and bureaucrats to get the best deal out of every project cleared.

The government should first create legal infrastructure for land use and then go after those indulging in illegalities so as to avoid being accused to be involved in witch hunt. Rather than rewarding political turncoats as heads for PDAs the government should appoint professionals of integrity to head them as they could give a proper direction to development in Goa. There is need for clear rules and systems that can be easily complied with. Easier processes would prevent people from resorting to illegalities. The government should work overtime to ensure that the processes are simple and clear, completed within the shortest possible timeframe and in a transparent manner.

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