The National Green Tribunal may have given a 4-month concession against the Goa government’s plea for a six months’ extension to finalize the contentious Coastal Zone Management Plan, but with a little over two months left, there are still major reasons to worry. Since the process is incomplete, the State has very limited options – one, to wrap up the “ground-truthing” exercise abruptly and proceed towards finalization, and two, explore the option of moving higher court, in an attempt to buy more time.
The point of debate is why was Goa not able to meet the deadline, or rather, why is the groundwork of CZMP not completed despite the numerous extensions in the timeline? Why has the State government not taken this exercise seriously, given the background that the green tribunal has been consistently seeking urgency? We may recall, the NGT had passed strictures over non-compliance in its previous orders, to the extent that it held the concerned Secretary of the State of Goa liable and said he will not be entitled to draw salary on default.
The government had a job cut out with an August-end deadline. It meant that the authorities had two weeks at hand to scrutinize the mammoth 8000-plus objections and suggestions, document and index them, and proceed with the laborious task of “ground-truthing”. The government was aware of the fact that this is going to be challenging, and with the NGT declining further extension, options were almost exhausted. Against this background, all available resources should have been pooled together with a clear objective of meeting the set deadline.
What is seen is a complete error of judgement in logistical workings. Even by any stretch of the imagination, one can’t expect only seven teams and a couple of departments to cover such a complex task. Working on a coastal plan, especially ground-truthing, is an exhaustive exercise involving fieldwork on sensitive areas like mangroves, khazans, sand dunes, turtle nesting sites, high-tide lines, hazard lines, water bodies, etc.
The fact that some of the teams or departments allocated with the field job haven’t begun work yet, speaks volumes of the callousness.
Where is the accountability here? In Salcete, a team entrusted with “ground-truthing” on mangroves, a very critical component of public feedback is yet to step out on the field. Despite all court strictures, stock-taking has not happened, and the government has not stuck to a clear plan of action with a deadline in mind. With the NGT now asking for the finalization by December, the State will have to immediately send its plans to the Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, the agency entrusted with the job, for further processing. The consequences of this rush against time could be catastrophic, because, with pressure mounting, authorities would be left with the only option of ignoring crucial queries and points raised by the public in their submissions. This will not only defeat the purpose of public engagement but also do grave injustice to the people and the State of Goa whose identity hinges on these sensitive areas.
Environment Minister Nilesh Cabral must hold accountability for this failure and explain to the people of Goa how he will proceed against a tight deadline and incorporate people’s views in the coastal plan as promised.