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DB Realty Goa Project: Why did Goa Government Go Soft?

Government of Goa had initially taken a firm stand against the DB Realty Goa Project on account of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) fierce agitation in 2006; however in the months ahead, post meetings that transpired between the government authorities and the promoters; Goa government change its stance in favor of the promoters. GoaChronicle.com investigates…

The government of Goa through the Additional Collector – North Goa issued a ‘Stop-Work’ order to the promoters – Goa Real Estate and Construction Limited (GRECL) – of the Aldeia De Goa project. The Order No. 4/1/2006/CRZ/943 was issued on December 12th 2006. This was done following the complaints by Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) of hill cutting. In May 2007, the Goa Town & Country Planning Department also filed an FIR in the Agacaim police station against the developers for illegal hill cutting.

However, what is shocking is the submission made in the High Court on behalf of the Government of Goa by the learned Advocate General “on instructions” in the Writ Petition No.11/08 filed by the Goa Real Estate Company in the Aldeia de Goa case. The learned AG has stated that the Respondent No.2 “R-2 (herein referring to the Government of Goa) shall withdraw the order dated 15/1/2007 on or before Friday, i.e. 25/1/2008. The Collector shall issue fresh orders after giving hearing to the petitioners.”

This had been done despite clear knowledge that the hill has been cut in violation of the PDA regulations governing construction on hill slopes and falsification of documents used in support by the builders and despite the assurance given to GBA by the Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and the Chief Secretary of Goa that the “Stop Work” order of the Collector would not be withdrawn till the enquiry in the issue was completed.

In November 2, 2007, the town and country planning department wrote to the developers that the matter had been referred to the government and that the government had agreed to withdraw not only the stop work order but also the FIR. Based on this letter, the additional collector withdrew the stop work order and the developer restarted work. The developers also issued front-page newspaper advertisements for plots, apartments and villas on the Bambolim plateau.

Subsequently in a meeting held between GBA and the Chief Minister in which the chief town planner Morad Ahmed was also present. Reportedly, the chief town planner explained that the developer in an affidavit justified the hill cutting saying that his plan was before the Section 17-A (permission for hill cutting) was inserted into the Town and Country Planning Act. The FIR filed against the developers of the project in the Agacaim police station was under Section 17-A of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1974. GRECL had submitted an application and affidavit pointing out that works undertaken at the Bambolim project were prior to 1997. But Section 17-A was inserted in the TCP Act 1974 through an amendment, after 1997. Hence it was not applicable.

Section 17A says:

(i)“Low lying land” means and includes any land 50 cms. Or lower than the adjoining ground level;

(ii)“Hilly land or sloppy land” means and includes any land having a gradient of 1:10 or more.

17B. Penalty for contravention of section 17A –

(1)Whosoever contravenes or abets the contravention of any of the provisions of section 17A, shall be punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year or fine which may not be less than Rs. 1.00 lakh or with both.

(2)An offence under this section shall be cognizable.

The Additional Collector North Goa – Swapnil Naik in his media statement said that the government had to withdraw the stop-work order in assurance given to the High Court, since GRECL took the matter to court challenging the Goa government order, also mentioned that since the developers work were under taken before 1997, the FIR filed had to be withdrawn and the ‘Stop-Work’ Order as well. He further stated to the media then that the builders had approached the court alleging that they had not been given a hearing before the ‘Stop –Work’ order was issued. So the order had to be lifted to give an opportunity to both sides to present their cases.

In 2008, the Peoples ‘Movement for Civic Action (PMCA) and the Goa Foundation  approached the High Court for a CBI inquiry into the disappearance of all files containing approvals relating to the construction of the Aldeia de Goa complex coming up at Bambolim, Goa. Their application stated that the files containing the approved plans had disappeared from the offices of the Town and Country Planning Department and the Panchayat of Bambolim in September-October 2007. Though the High Court had directed the PIs of Panjim and Agassaim Police Stations in November 2007 to file reports every two weeks on their investigations in the file disappearances, even six months later the files were not recovered. Unhappy with the state of affairs, the High Court in April 2008 issued notice to the Goa Government to show-cause why the matter should not be handed over to the CBI since the agencies of the Goa Government were obviously unable to satisfactorily conclude the investigations.

CM Does a ‘U-Turn’

Initially the Chief Minister of Goa owing to the pressure brought on by the GBA decide to stand firm against the project and even got the Additional Collector – North Goa to issue of ‘Stop-Work’ order. It is learnt through very reliable sources that in the months following the issue of the ‘Stop-Work’ order by the Goa government, representatives of GRECL had made numerous representations to the government authorities, some of which were attended by the Chief Minister. In fact sources following up with irregularities of the project have mentioned to GoaChronicle.com that Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka did meet with the Chief Minister  days prior to the High Court hearing of the GRECL petition challenging the ‘Stop-Work’ order notice. Subsequently, the Advocate General then in the Writ Petition No.11/08 case told the court that the Respondent No.2 “R-2 (herein referring to the Government of Goa) shall withdraw the order dated 15/1/2007 on or before Friday, i.e. 25/1/2008.

The serious questions that GoaChronicle.com is raising is in what transpired between the government authorities and petitioners that led to the government withdrawing the order in the High Court, even though it was clearly evident that the developers were in violations of the Central and state laws.

Even the Central Intelligence agencies have corroborated the facts that Senior Congress leaders were pressurized by DB Realty to allow the project to go through, so much so that the Chief Minister Digambar Kamat decided to stand aback in midst of the fact the project continued after receiving a Supreme Court order to continue work at their own cost and risk.

While Digambar Kamat has openly denied to the media that he has any knowledge about Shahid Balwa, it in itself raises questions considering our sources in Goa, Delhi and at DB Group have informed us that he has indeed meet with Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka at least once in 2007 in Goa itself.

Government Action on ‘Missing Files’

What also throws open serious doubts on the government authorities is the fact that all files pertaining to this project are missing, People Movement for Civic Action (PCMA) and Goa Foundation have even filed a case in the High Court asking for a CBI probe into the ‘Missing Files’ incident which is to come-up for final hearing this week. Till today the files on this controversial projection stay missing.

In their defense in court so far, the TCP submitted that the files were given to M/s SPRY Resources India Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad for scanning for record purposes and TCP department has written a letter to M/s SPRY Resources India Pvt Ltd, asking whether they have scanned the files. Responding to this, the Court in a earlier hearing instructed the Advocate General Subodh Kantak to inform the Court on the next date if the documents were scanned and computerized and to produce the same in the Court.

Instead of taking the officers involved to task, the TCP Chief Town Planner Morad Ahmad by an office memorandum of November 22, 2008 has issued a show cause notice to the Khalasi (sweeper) of the TCP Tiswadi taluka office at Panjim. Show cause notice has been served to Mahadev Morajkar, seeking explanation and reasons for not performing his duties effectively and regarding the loss of the file.

Not impressed with this, the Court stated that though they don’t want to comment on the show cause notice served to the Khalasi, they observed that the Khalasi can’t act without the connivance of a senior officer and it is for the department to take proper action.

In fact if the claim of one of the activists fighting the project is to be believed, then Vinod Goenka of DB Realty mentioned to her that, “We are not a company that breaks any law, we just change the law.” This sums up the entire money and political clout of the group.

 

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