The BJP government does not mind being rebuked by the NGT but will not fall in line. Because fines are paid by your tax money. Another Rs 68 lakhs are due when the case on illegal structures on beaches comes up for hearing on January 21, 2020. EX-CM Manohar Parrikar vetoed setting up a bench in Goa saying it would be a financial constraint and would not have enough work. But since it was set up, the NGT’s Pune bench has passed more than a 100 judgements in Goa-related matters.

January 19, 2020

Lion Roars

From a rap on the knuckles, an entirely embarrassing indictment from the High Court to coughing up hefty fines imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the BJP government revels in wearing the dunce cap, standing in the corner, facing the wall, as it were. Meaning it does not mind being rebuked but will not fall in line. And why not, the fines are paid by your tax money. It does not come from their fat salaries and perks. Tax money again!

Late November, 2019, angered by the government’s reluctance to implement the NGTs two-year-old order on illegal structures in the No Development Zone (NDZ); it threatened the government with increasing the environment compensation to Rs 2 crore, including suspending salaries of all concerned officers, apart from other punitive punishment. The NGT order issued on November 2, 2017 was against blatantly illegal structures on the beaches of Morjim, Mandrem, Galgibag and Agonda. The old compensation to be recovered from each of the violators was Rs 1 lakh. The next hearing was fixed for January 7, 2020.

This government must hate the NGT. Then, why is it behaving like the impudent brat at school? Mid-December the NGT granted the government a final extension of six weeks for it to submit its report on private forests, hitting it (earlier) with a penalty of Rs 50 lakh for the delay. The NGT in August 2019 gave the government a three-month extension to submit the report, at the same time imposing a penalty of Rs 10,000 starting July 1, 2019. Beginning July to December 2019, that would make it 184 days and at Rs 10,000 per day, that would make it Rs 18,40,000 of your tax money. Add the Rs 50 lakh penalty to that figure, which is what the NGT ordered earlier. The case comes up for hearing on January 21, 2020 which means the government would have to cough up another Rs 21,000. A grand total of Rs 68,61,000.

NGT bogey even in December

There’s more trouble looming for the government which had demolished shacks in Morjem and Mandrem(see picture) . This one too was initiated by NGT. The government has an action plan for rejuvenating polluted stretches in 11 rivers in the state. This came after the NGTs direction to all states to ensure that all sewage is treated by onsite remediation by March 31, 2020. States are also required to make sure that the required sewerage treatment plants (STP) and drains are set up and connected. The fine is Rs 5 lakh per month for default in in-situ remediation and Rs 5 lakh per STP as penalty for failing to set up a STP. Can you not see a few more crores going down the drain literally?

The BJPs anathema

Former chief minister Manohar Parrikar vetoed the idea of setting up a circuit bench of the NGT in Goa saying it would be a financial constraint - also, that there would not be enough work for it in Goa. Since it was set up, the NGT’s Pune bench has passed more than a hundred judgements in Goa-related matters. In hindsight, had he supported the popular demand, his successor government would have saved crores in legal fees arguing a succession of cases in the Pune bench. The Goa government has a proper legal set-up in New Delhi, but none in Pune which is a point to note.

A notification from the Ministry of Environment and Forests transferring cases filed by litigants in Goa to Pune to the principal bench in New Delhi created an uproar. Activists, whom the BJP also hates saw it as a devious ploy to restrict their access to the NGT for all the obvious reasons. The Bombay High Court’s Goa bench stayed the order.

In 2016 the then BJP chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar said in his inimitable style: “Anyone comes as an environmentalist and takes the government to court or NGT in the name of protecting the environment. It is a fashion in Goa now to halt or obstruct development works.” This of course is a common stance of the BJP. In 2013, Parrikar criticised the NGT’s nationwide ban on sand mining, calling it a ‘judicial overreach’. Parsekar is now a has-been. The rest you know.

More lyrical than legal

The 47-page judgement said among other emotive things: “Above all, there is one overarching concern.” Justice Patel and Justice N D Sardessai wrote: “This is an extraordinary state, in more ways than one, a place where, perhaps more than anywhere else, sky, sea and earth meet. From horizon to horizon, it is a land of abundant richness. It is a land of confluences, where diverse strands meet and co-exist; and, in a time of apparently incessant strife and discord, it is still a mostly liberal land. It is a kind and gentle land, of a kind and gentle people. And it is also a land that, given its small size and small population, has had a wholly disproportionate influence on our art, culture, language, music, literature, architecture, history, design and more (even food, for many of what we consider our staples first came from here).”

“Its greatest asset is one: its environment and its ecology - its rivers and riverbanks, its beaches, its lakes and clear streams, its dense forests, its low hills and fertile fields, its boulders and even trees shrouded with moss and vines and lichen in the rains, its ridiculously brilliant sunsets. One needs only to turn off an arterial road to either east or west to see all this first-hand, and all of it within but a few minutes.” So lyrical and so true.

Goans are citizens not subjects

Someone once said, ‘Democracy is a slow process of stumbling to the right decision instead of going straightforward to the wrong one’. This ought to be the 2020 ring tone for the BJP when activists call it up. It’s clear. In a year-ender literally, the Bombay High Court in Panjim told the government that refuses to engage its citizens; to curb and monitor graphite particle emissions from a pig iron plant at Amona ‘at the earliest.’ After, the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPC) found particles on leaves in the garden, porch, roof, floor, water tank and roof of the Shree Chawdeshwar Prasanna temple in Sawantwada; also on plants growing on an internal wall of the public well near the Mahadev Temple in Bhandarwada. The directive was issued to GSPC. The HC also said GSPC should not wait till petitioners were forced to approach it on matters of environmental pollution. If it were allowed, this government would even accuse the judiciary of activism!