The Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority's fresh plan to hold public hearings to finalize the draft of the Coastal Zone Management Plan at the directives of the National Green Tribunal has some inherent flaws that could once again defeat the very purpose of the exercise.
Firstly, authorities have finalised a July 8 hearing based on the NGT guidelines, but monsoon is likely to be peaking in July, and the month normally has a forecast of heavy rainfall. A downpour on the nominated day could keep many people away from the crucial hearing. Authorities may argue here that participation through the virtual platform has been allowed via email. The point is that a majority of the rural coastal population is not familiar with online systems and could face a dilemma in putting their grievances across. These are not practical options for the vocal orator. While GCZMA may be constrained by the NGT timeline, a hearing somewhere closer to the end of August could have been pleaded considering the ground situation.
Faced with the monsoon hurdle, authorities have indicated that venues will be covered with waterproof pandals. However, the condition of these open venues -- Parade Ground, Opposite Campal Clinic, Panaji and the SGPDA Ground, opposite District and Sessions Court, Margao haven't been assessed before finalising. Both venues remain waterlogged and the Margao ground, which is currently used as a makeshift parking lot, has developed major water puddles already.
Thirdly, while participation is opened up through multiple forms of registrations, including on-the-spot filling in, there is a time restriction of 15 minutes allocated to every participant. Authorities may reserve the right to moderate political agendas and irrelevant discussions, but that doesn't mean valid arguments and genuine concerns are weighed on the same scale and struck down. Speakers should be allowed time, based on the merit of the presentation and constructive points, and all cannot be restrained by the clock, now that the NGT has made it amply clear that there is no ceiling on the number of days for the hearing.
The salutary mandate of the public hearing has to be followed in letter and spirit and in no way should the situation be rendered unviable as directed by the NGT. A reasonable opportunity has to be given for all concerned sections, and on this count, authorities must make every attempt to accommodate and hear all aggrieved citizens within the framework and without unwarranted stipulations.
Thanks to the NGT, authorities have opened up multiple registration avenues. However, we are still not convinced whether there is a serious effort to hear the masses. Goa's coastal plan has been delayed because the draft has been vastly flawed and authorities failed to listen to the voices. It would be futile to revisit the past at this juncture. We only hope that authorities provide a conducive and people-friendly environment, make necessary adjustments and above all listen to every voice that matters to coastal Goa. It’s time to shed the baggage of the past and move on.