Panaji, Goa: Goa has just got a new law and it is being called a "super law." Environmentalists say the amended town planning act overrides any other land regulation in the state and has the power to destroy Goa's 33 per cent forest cover.
On the same day as the controversial bill to cut coconut trees was cleared by the state assembly last week, another amendment was passed. This was done by tweaking Goa's Town & Country Planning Act to allow eco-tourism activities inside ecologically sensitive zones.
"It is unconstitutional. You cannot have a law for somebody who says I am going to put up Rs 5,000 cr, so give me this plot and exempt me from all the laws. And (have) another set of laws for the common man. We already have a slew of draconian laws which are taking away pieces of Goa and putting them into special zones under the control of lobbies," Claude Alvares, the environmentalist who exposed the alleged mining scam during the Congress regime, explained.
So far these forests have been protected, Mr Alvares said, because large parts of Goa's forests are part of the Western Ghats, recognised as one of the world's major bio diversity hotspots.
The new law removes the need for any permission to convert forest land for commercial purposes which was mandatory earlier. "This amendment will lead to a rush of people converting agricultural land and designated forest land to set up these resorts," environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta said.
Goa's forest minister Rajendra Arlekar seems to be ready for encroachment into areas that have so far been out of bounds. He wants to expand eco-tourism activities into the state's forests. "I am not averse to it. We will do this if we can. People should be allowed to enjoy nature," Mr Arlekar told NDTV.
However, because of the uproar against the new law he promises a rethink. "We will look into it again. We will discuss with concerned ministers. If there is opposition, we will re-think it," Mr Arlekar clarified.