NGT ORDERS FRESH HEARING ON CZMP

OUTSIDE: The protestors who were affected by the mismanagement of the Coastal Management Zone Plan were kept out of the Kala Academy auditorium while the hearing was going on with just a handful of people present in the hall.

The National Green Tribunal in response to an appeal by advocate Norma Alvares has ordered a re-hearing on the Coastal Zone Management Plan(CZMP). It may be recalled that the earlier hearing of the CZMP at Ravindra Bhavan and Kala Academy was abandoned after NGOs headed by Goencho Avaz protested…

ORDER

  1. Grievance in this application is against deficiencies in the conduct of public hearing for preparation of Coastal Zones Management Plan (CZMP) in Goa.
  2. Case set out in the application is that the State of Goa first appointed National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) for preparing the draft CZMP to give effect to the CRZ Notification, 2011. Later, in March, 2016, NCSCM was appointed for the purpose. The draft was prepared in May, 2019. Awareness camps were organized in 10 coastal Talukas. There was large scale protest against the said draft. This led to a direction to the Panchayats and the Municipal Councils to prepare draft CZMPs for their respective areas. The State of Goa also initiated action for modification of definition of High Tide Line (HTL) for which CRZ Notification, 2011 was amended on 01.05.2020. In the process, finalisation of CZMP was delayed beyond the time prescribed in the earlier orders of this Tribunal. The State of Goa sought extension of time. Vide order of this Tribunal dated 28.09.2020 in M.A. No. 55/2020, time to complete CZMP extended upto 31.01.2020. However, this did not obviate the need to follow due process. The draft CZMPs were submitted by the NCSCM to the Goa Government on 28.01.2021. The GCZMA accepted the draft without due consideration and put them in public domain for inviting objections. Notice for public hearing was issued in newspapers on 30.01.2021 for 07.03.2021 at Ravindra Bhavan for South Goa and Taleigao community hall for North Goa. It was stated in the notice that written objections should be filed within one-month time, i.e. by 28th February, 2021 and that the public could participate in the public hearing by registering their names before 11 a.m. on the day of the public hearing itself. Since the maps were not complete there was grievance to the procedure for public hearing. On that ground, PIL No. 04/2021 was filed before the High Court of Bombay at Goa (High Court). The Writ Petition was disposed on 02.03.2021 with liberty to move this Tribunal. The District Collector issued fresh notice for public hearing which was published in newspapers on 05.03.2021 but again there were procedural deficiencies rendering public hearing a formality. The venue of public hearing was changed from Taleigao Community hall in Taleigao to the Kala Academy in Panjim. There were other changes in the notice for public hearing including requirement of prior registration, registration at the venue, reduction of time for hearing and fixing maximum limit of 5 minutes for each participant. New notice allowed oral presentation without visuals without facility for virtual participation. On account of pandemic, physical participation was limited to 100 people. In such situation, if participants were more than 100, staggered public hearing should have been held. Applicants have also referred to order of the High Court dated 20.01.2021 in W.P. No. 03/2021, Pravir P. Fadte v. State of Goa & Ors. on the subject of mode to be adopted for public hearing. It is further stated that public hearing conducted on 07.03.2021 was deficient as large number of people could not participate. Only 79 persons were allowed in North Goa and 95 persons in South Goa to enter the venue. Even they could not duly participate for want of registration or other requirements. This led to filing of PIL Nos. 10-11 of 2021, Anthony Francis Vasand & 10 Ors. v. The District Collector, North Goa, Panaji & 2 Ors. before the High Court. The said petitions were finally disposed of on 06.04.2021 as follows:- “
  3. Today the learned Counsel for the parties agree and consent to dispose of both the petitions by making the following order;
    i. The petitioners in both these petitions will institute appropriate proceedings before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench at New Delhi within a period of maximum two weeks from today and serve the copies of the same upon the respondents.
    ii. Considering the chequered history of the matter, we request NGT to take up the petitioners’ application for interim relief, in the said proceedings as expeditiously as possible and preferably within a period of four weeks from the date of the institution of the proceedings.
    iii. Until the applications for interim relief are disposed of by the NGT, the interim orders made by us in this petition will operate. iv. We make it clear that we have not adjudicated on the merits of the rival contentions and all contentions of all the parties are therefore expressly kept open to be considered by NGT in the proceedings to be instituted by the petitioners. 5. The learned counsel for the parties assure this Court that they will co-operate with the NGT in the matter of early disposal of the application for interim relief as also the main proceedings. 6. Accordingly, by making the aforesaid order, we dispose of both these petitions.”
  4. Substance of the grievance of the applicant is that public hearing already held was not meaningful. The notice period should have been 60 days as per the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986. The residents have several objections to the CZMP including following:- “
    • There is no comparison carried out between the 1996 CZMP and the draft CZMP, and no justification is provided, as required, for any major changes. In fact, both the State Government and MoEF&CC have denied copies of the 1996 CZMP plans on the grounds that such plans cannot be found.
    • Drastic changes have been made between the 2019 draft CZMPs and the 2021 drafts. Huge area of Goa has now been shown under the limits of Mormugao port or other ports. The CZMPs of Chennai, Mumbai, etc., do not show port limits.
    • The CZMPs show some structures on the maps while going blank on other structures. A lot of influence has been exercised to show illegal construction, whereas several legal structures do not appear. Either all structures are to be shown or none.
    • Fishing villages have been replaced by fishing wards. In many cases, the wards are found located in the maps beyond the 500 metre CRZ.
    • Due to the sudden removal of the high tide line from the riverine sections, ecologically sensitive areas beyond the new High Tide Line appearing on river banks and khazan embankments, stand without protection, defeating the purpose of the CRZ notification.
    • Important coastal villages like Palolem, significant stretches like the Ribandar causeway, are re-designated as CRZ II (earlier, CRZIII) in violation of CRZ norms.
    • The draft CZMPs have reduced themselves to the status of complicated land use plans. They have lost their meaning. The plans ought to highlight sand dunes, mangroves, turtle nesting sites, degraded coastal stretches and recommend stringent measures for their protection and rehabilitation. It is these coastal assets of Goa that define the natural beauty of the state. If these are disturbed irredeemably, the state loses its international appeal, besides endangering the livelihood of its citizens, many dependent solely on fishing or tourism.
    • In order to provide inputs to the NCSCM relating to management plans for mangroves, khazans, turtle nesting sites and fishing communities, last-minute committees were appointed to produce reports. The reports of these committee were simply inserted into the draft CZMP as annexures, in order to comply with the need to prove that some attention was being paid to the rehabilitation and restoration of these coastal assets and endowments.” Earlier CZMP prepared in 1996 continued in force till 2016. New CZMP will be valid for two decades. It is, therefore, to be ensured that there are no errors. 80% population will be affected by the CZMP. 4. The application is opposed on behalf of the respondents. They have relied upon the affidavit filed before the High Court on 1.4.2021 in PIL WP Nos.10-11/2021 and orders of the High Court on the subject of modalities of public hearing. We have allowed the said affidavit to be treated as reply filed in the present proceedings for decision of the application, to avoid unnecessary procedural delay. In substance, the stand of the respondents is that there is no deficiency in public hearing in view of pandemic situation and need for expeditious action. Last minute change of venue became compulsion as it was not known that the venue had been earlier booked by someone else and was not available for the purpose.
  5. We have heard the learned counsel for the parties and considered the rival submissions.
  6. While it is true that there is urgency in the matter of finalization of CZMP which process is pending for the last 7 years, at the same time the salutary mandate of public hearing has to be followed in letter and spirit. Last minute change is venue certainly caused prejudice in conduct of public hearing.
  7. Having regard to the totality of facts and circumstances, we consider it appropriate to direct that following further steps may be now taken before finalizing of CZMP, with a view to ensure that the mandate of public hearing is effectively followed:-
  8. Notice may be issued within one week in the prescribed mode, including in newspapers, fixing a date for public hearing within one month from the date of notice.
  9. Two venues with adequate capacity may be specified which may not be changed. The modalities of conducting public hearing may be specified in the notice. Written objections may also be allowed to be filed, to be supplemented by public hearing of specified duration. Representations of all sections of affected people may be ensured without rending the situation unviable. If necessary public hearing may be continued for more than one days but we do not fix any particular number of days. Idea is reasonable opportunity to all concerned sections.
  10. This will not affect the other modalities already laid down and followed earlier in terms of the directions of the High Court.
  11. Time for completing the process is extended to 31.08.2021 as against 31.1.2021 earlier fixed. The application is disposed of. In view of order in the main matter, I.A. No. 115/2021 also stands disposed of.
    Adarsh Kumar Goel, CP Sudhir Agarwal, JM M. Sathyanarayanan, JM Brijesh Sethi, JM Dr. Nagin Nanda, EM May 31, 2021 Original Application No. 118/2021 A

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

77 − 76 =