Source: Catch News| Author: Nihar Gokhale | Image Courtesy: parrikar
- Goa has an Investment Promotion and Facilitation Board
- It has the power to bypass all state, district and village-level laws to facilitate investment
- The Board has cleared many projects on forest and protected land
- Most of the projects are breweries, distilleries and five-star hotels
More in the story
- Why the Goa govt reclassified coconut trees as a ‘grass’
- What the Parliamentary committee on environment has to say about the Board
About 10 days ago, Prime Minister said India needed to find a balance between saving the environment from global warming and development, especially when it comes to generating energy.
In Goa, a state administered by Bharatiya Janata Party, the balance was tipped 15 months ago. And it wasn’t even for energy, but for breweries, distilleries and five-star hotels.
The biggest challenge to Goa, and its ecology, appears to be from a high-powered government body called the Goa Investment Promotion and Facilitation Board (IPB).
What is the IPB?
- The IPB draws its powers from the Goa Investment Promotion Act, 2014, a law some experts consider to be flawed and unconstitutional.
- Under the Act, the IPB can declare any area as an investment promotion area.
- The IPB overrides all state, town and village-level laws related to clearing industrial growth, including those formed under the the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution.
- Any firm that wants to invest more than Rs 5 crore in the state, and assures job creation, can approach the Board.
The IPB overrides all state, town and village-level laws related to clearing industrial growth!
- The Board is chaired by the Chief Minister, and members include ministers and secretaries of industries, tourism and IT departments of the state government, besides members of industries associations.
- While industrial expansions are cleared within a month, new investments get approved in two to three months.
- New industries that are highly polluting (under the so-called “red category“) cannot get clearances through the IPB, unless an existing industry wants to expand.
How the coconut tree became a grass
The IPB has been the key player behind drastic changes to the Goan landscape, transcending environmental safeguards and constitutional institutions.
At a speed that will make business lobbies drool, the IPB has cleared 71 projects worth over Rs 7,000 crore in just nine meetings since it was established in October 2014.
In one meeting on 21 January, the board cleared nine projects worth nearly Rs 1,900 crore, including four five-star hotels on the coast in the Bardez region, and a mall.
Such hotel projects form a large proportion of projects cleared by the IPB, besides manufacturing and pharmaceutical units. Many of these are coming up in “no development zones” and land with natural cover.
At least one of these projects was approved in an area that had coconut trees. And some months later, the Goa Assembly passed an outrageous law, reclassifying the coconut palm as a grass, rather than a tree. That’s because a ‘grass’ can be cut freely, compared to trees.
Destroying the environment
- The IPB has been criticised on two grounds – for allowing projects in orchards and other green areas, and for bypassing all other forms of governance, including village institutions.
- Goa has a long-term plan called Regional Plan 2021, based on which land is classified into the different uses it can be put to.
- The IPB is notorious for giving clearances where the land that is not designated to have industries or hotels. This is often forested land.
- So, a piece land with over a thousand coconut trees and cashew trees was changed overnight from agricultural to industrial land.
- This also happened in the widely reported case in Sanguem, where Vani Agro’s distillery was allowed to come up by clearing 1,000 coconut and 500 cashew trees. That the permission to clear then for the distillery was given before the coconut palm was reclassified shows how powerful the IPB is.
- The distillery case is just the tip of the iceberg. Of the five-star hotels approved on 21 January, one, at Malim, is to come up over 35,000 square metres of natural cover, which used to be designated as a “no development zone”.
- For another hotel and villa project, 20,000 square metres of orchard land was converted to a commercial settlement, of which 5,000 square metres of orchards were to directly come under the axe. “The IPB Act is in direct conflict with the Constitution of India, in allowing preferential treatment of change in land use to a select few,” says Reboni Saha, secretary, Goa Bachao Andolan.
- The IPB’s mandate is so overpowering that it borders on the draconian. The Investment Promotion Act, 2014, allows the Board’s decisions to override all state and local legislation. “You wonder where the law department is in all this, when it can allow such nonsense to be passed,” says Saha said.
- In its zeal to give clearance to industries, the Board often oversteps its own mandate under the the Act. Saha said that examples include approvals for projects coming up on steep slopes, in forests and in areas under the Coastal Regulation Zone (for example, a hotel project on Capao Island).
Criticism from Parliamentary committee
While activists have been speaking out against the IPB, one gram-sabha recently passed a resolution demanding the IPB be scrapped.
The IPB’s opponents got a shot in the arm last weekend, after the Parliament’s committee on environment concluded a visit Goa by terming the IPB ‘destructive’.
Rajya Sabha MP Ashwani Kumar, who chairs the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology, and Environment and Forests, said on 6 February that the Act is a ‘destructive law’, and that it seems the state government is “out to destroy Article 14 [of the Constitution, equality before law].”
Kumar said he will request the Union government’s intervention in the matter.
“It seemed like the government is taking steps to protect the environment, but I must say, for this, they have to change the laws of IPB and the coconut tree,” he told the press.
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