Saturday 20 Jul 2024

Siolim tree cutting: There's need to get to the root of issue

| MARCH 28, 2024, 12:04 AM IST

The PWD reiterated that it was not involved in cutting trees for the road widening project even as the court found that the case was getting “more curious” with the oral submissions. On Wednesday, the court asked Calangute MLA Michael Lobo to be made a respondent after viewing a video clip that showed the presence of the legislator at the site justifying the works.

While it is crystal clear that the contractor has become the scapegoat, the court proceedings are exposing more than what is being shown even as authorities are trying to run away from responsibility.

The question is, who is finally responsible for cutting the trees? The contractor? The PWD? The Forest Department? The MLA? Or, collectively all? It is amply clear that there are well-laid-down procedures in place while taking up public projects like road-widening. A contractor emerging at the site with his machinery and chopping down 29-odd trees while the entire government machinery and enforcement were unaware becomes an untenable narration.

There is an impression created that the entire job was being carried out clandestinely by the contractor. This also sounded hollow when videos surfaced of Lobo speaking out at the site explaining the need to widen the road given the traffic congestion and discomfort to locals. In the same vein, the claim that authorities were not aware reeks of an attempt to pass on the buck because eyewitnesses have revealed that PWD engineers were on site when the trees were being brought down.

This case is not only about tree cutting but also about how departments have colluded to bypass the law and trample upon the sentiments of locals. Projects like these, even if they are of a low budget, require land acquisition compliances, administrative approvals, a legitimate tender process and an expenditure sanction. Also, there is government supervision needed in the form of PWD engineers inspecting the site and preparing reports.

The claim that authorities were not aware of the road widening or cutting of trees is beyond the realm of common understanding. This case has made a complete mockery of systems and exposes two possibilities: Either the authorities are completely ignorant of illegalities happening around the State, or there is a lethal nexus between contractors and authorities that provides a safe channel to such illegal works.

The question is whether PWD can absolve itself by saying that it is not involved in the Siolim tree cutting issue. If the contractor is made responsible for cutting trees, who authorised the contractor to go about the job? The court is trying to get to the bottom of the issue and establish who eventually is responsible. The question here is not about who is not responsible.

There may be a second side to the story with a section of locals wanting road expansion, but that does not permit authorities and even the MLA to allow illegal felling of trees. The hurry with which the work was undertaken was unjustified. Truth must prevail, and those trying to escape the long arm of law by feigning ignorance must be brought to justice otherwise those who stand up for the green of Goa will always stand defeated by an opaque and insensitive system.

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