The Regional Plan 2021 has been notified for Pernem and Canacona talukas. Barring a few policy statements and the VP status, the plan relates only to these two talukas. The plan is a confusing compromise between the recommendations of the Task Force, demands of the panchayats/gram sabhas, decisions of the State-Level Committee (SLC) members and perhaps the hidden agenda of the political class and their mentors. The government must be congratulated for streamlining the mapping process, demystifying the process of reading, and understanding the village maps. Also for defining for the first time the new concept of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) and exhibiting ESZ areas as a part of the RP; introducing the process of participatory planning for the first time in Goa; and for making life easy for small plot owners by liberalizing conditions for single-dwelling units.
The initial hype at the long-awaited arrival of the plan not withstanding, the plan, prima facie, reveals a lack of direction for sustainable development in the long run. There’s also a considerable degree of arbitrariness or lack of logic in land use provisions, a lack of faith in genuine participatory planning, and obvious disconnect between policy objectives and ground-level strategies.
The plan is a confusing compromise between the recommendations of the Task Force, demands of the panchayats/gram sabhas, decisions of the State-Level Committee (SLC) members and perhaps the hidden agenda of the political class and their mentors.
Let us first take up the new concept of ‘Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) I and II’. Steps to protect and preserve environment have been long enshrined in various Acts, such as the Forest Act, the Environment Protection Act and various notifications thereunder, Air Act, Water Act, Land Revenue Code, etc. What is new is an explicit statement that ESZ-I and ESZ-II areas in Goa constitute about 80% of the area and that no intervention in ESZ-I and very limited intervention in ESZ-II areas will be permitted.
ESZ-I, comprising government and private forests, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, mangrove forests and water bodies, constitutes 54% of Goa’s area. ESZ-II, comprising paddy areas and khazans, command areas, salt pans and heritage zones, constitutes 26% of Goa’s area.
Government and private forests occupy an area of 1,450 sq km, constituting 37% of Goa’s land area and 72% of area under ESZ-I. Thus forests are the most important constituent of ESZ-I. These forests are mainly concentrated in the talukas of Sattari, Sanguem, Quepem, Canocona and Bicholim. The mining of iron ore and manganese that takes place in Goa is predominantly in these forests. (The forest areas and the mining leases in the above talukas are shown in the accompanying table). It is possible that some mining leases are in non-forest areas. But, by and large, it is the forest areas which have borne the brunt of mining.
There is considerable confusion in respect of mining industry statistics. As per RP2021, there are 700 mining leases in Goa, of which about 129 are operational. As per the figures released by MoEF, there were 120 projects pending with them for sanction in 2007, 58 of which were approved by them in the period 2007-2009. The area under mining leases in 2002-’03 was about 30,000 ha (300 sq km).
When all the projects pending before MoEF get approval, the area under mining would increase to about 40,000 ha (400 sq km)*. Currently, there are 91 operational mining leases in Goa**. The figures available with MoEF would suggest that mining covers about 21% of the forest area and 8% of the total area in Goa. This is reportedly the highest in the country. These figures relate only to ‘legal’ mining in Goa. The quantum of illegal mining in and around legal leases is anybody’s guess. Environment minister Aleixo Sequeira told the Goa Assembly in 2009 that 85 mining leases were working illegally without pollution control board clearance. Forest and water resources minister Felipe Neri Rodrigues told the Assembly in 2009 that 182 mining leases were near water bodies or water sources in forests. A committee of the assembly under MLA Pandurang Madkaikar recommended a CBI-assisted inquiry by the state government into the rampant illegal mining carried out in the above talukas. The opposition party in the assembly has been crying hoarse over widespread illegal mining and the government’s unwillingness or inability to stop the same.
The Task Force in its report recommended that mining operations within a kilometre of water bodies and water sources should be phased out in three years and mining in other forest areas in five years. The RP2021 is totally silent on this recommendation of the Task Force. The RP contains many policy statements applicable to the whole of Goa, notwithstanding the fact that the RP document finally notified is for Pernem and Canacona talukas only.
There is no policy statement on mining is a factor that dilutes the ESZ policy. Union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, announced in the recent past, his decision to appoint NEERI of Nagpur to study the long-term impact of mining on environment in Goa. It is not known whether the state has undertaken any study to decide how long mining could be allowed to continue as a part of our economic activity by trading off environment.
Going gaga over the prescription of ESZ-I without protecting its most important constituent, viz the forest area of Goa, will be suicidal. Talking of ESZ-I, with no plans to stop destruction of forest, can only be a statement of hollow intensions.