A change in law in Goa, allowing farmers to fell old coconut trees which threaten homes and cultivated areas, has kicked off a storm with voices for and against the tree’s reclassification from protected to non-protected status.
In the winter session of the state Assembly, the BJP-led government of Laxmikant Parsekar ensured the passage of The Goa Preservation of Trees (Amendment) Bill which relocated the coconut tree from Section 1 (a) to Section 12 (a) of the The Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act. The law came into effect last Friday.
Activists and Opposition parties are alleging that the government effected the change in law because it is “only interested in facilitating big projects by massacring coconut trees in large numbers”.
Rejecting the charge, Chief Minister Parsekar has accused some MLAs of raising the issue only to “blackmail”.
“Some people raise the issue on the floor of the House to blackmail others. They raise the issue so that they can extort money. These are the same people who are raking up certain issues on an emotional level,” Parsekar told a gathering of BJP workers Monday.
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Justifying the amendment, he said: “No Goan will slaughter coconut trees even if he is given blanket permission. I have seen people protecting coconut trees even at the cost of their homes. They will avoid cutting a coconut tree even if it is an obstacle in the construction of a home.” But trees which become economically unviable, he said, need to be felled so that they can be replaced with a better coconut variety.
Minister for Environment Rajendra Arlekar said the amendment was necessary since farmers in the state were finding it difficult to cut old coconut trees because these came under Section 1 (a) and were under the protection of the Forest Act.
“There were frequent issues of old coconut trees collapsing and destroying houses or cultivated areas. Residents could not do much since they had to obtain permission from authorities to cut the trees. To overcome this, we have just relocated the coconut tree from the protected list,” Arlekar said. With the amendment, he said, old coconut trees which pose danger can be felled.
He said Goans consider it taboo to cut coconut trees. “Instead, they are culturally motivated to plant one. So there is no question of people misusing their rights unnecessarily.” Citing a census by the agriculture department, Arlekar said the state has an estimated 47 lakh coconut trees.
But activists disagree. Dr Sabina Martins of Goa Bachao Abhiyan alleged that the government only wanted to “facilitate big projects”. “In areas with scores of coconut trees, multi-crore projects are coming up in the guise of eco-tourism, agro-based industry and distillery units. With the publication of the amendment in Goa’s official gazette, they have a free hand to destroy coconut trees,” Martins alleged.
(With PTI inputs)