The High Court's rap on the knuckles of the Goa Police and the village panchayat authorities could not have come at a more appropriate time, and one hopes that it will spur the authorities, especially the panchayats, to act against the growing menace of illegal constructions.
The orders come at a time when the State is gearing up for what is said will be an unprecedented tourist season, and the State has witnessed a boom in the activity that will cater to these tourists, especially along the coastal belt. New restaurants are being set up, constructions are taking place at pace, and much of the lull we experienced during the Covid pandemic is firmly behind us.
Under assault are the hotspots of illegal activity, including Anjuna, where several times in the past, the Courts have had to intervene to ensure that illegalities are demolished. Also, Vagator and other coastal villages where despite demolitions, illegalities continue right under the noses of the authorities.
As the High Court rightly pointed out, by the time action is taken, the tourist season comes to an end, by which time the purpose of the construction has been served, and the offender himself is willing to dismantle the structure on his own under the threat of an action, only to put it up once again the following year. A case in point is the illegal construction in Anjuna that came up last year in the name of Sunburn Club, put up in time for the New Year's Eve party, and when a hue and cry was raised, it took two years to get demolished.
"Even if one set of constructions, which had degraded the environment in the highly eco-sensitive NDZ, was purportedly razed to the ground, they have brazenly put up yet another set of structures on the same spot," the High Court observed. "All this creates an impression that the petitioners are accustomed to putting up such massive illegal and unauthorised structures in the said property during the tourist season and thereafter delay the proceedings before a few authorities who dare to take action or are forced to take action under public pressure. Once the tourist season concludes, the petitioners give undertakings of demolition, and there is no clear material on whether such undertakings are actually complied with or not. This is an extremely sorry state of affairs," the High Court also observed.
The issue of illegal construction is not only along Goa's coastal belt. Across the state and especially on agricultural land along highways, illegal and unpermitted land use is being carried out with impunity. Scrapyards, restaurants, nurseries, cement block yards, etc, are all being set up in agricultural fields with little to no action against the offenders unless the courts intervene.
As a mechanism to keep a check on illegal constructions, the panchayats have failed at all levels and are either actively participating in the illegalities or simply turning a blind eye, knowing well what the situation is.
What the state needs is a system of accountability wherein both the offender as well as the authority who failed to act be made to face the consequences of their actions and inactions. Failing which, the offenders will simply keep testing the limits of the law and see how much they can get away with, while local residents lose out on the right quality of life they all deserve.