September 9, 2021 9:55:57 am
The High Court of Bombay at Goa on Wednesday restrained the Goa government from proceeding with the construction of a concrete paver road inside the Mollem National Park in south Goa, observing that the government’s Public Works Department (PWD) was carrying out the work without the approval of the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL). The court observed that, prima facie, the PWD was going to undertake the proposed road work at a cost of Rs 30 crore to cater to about 4.5 lakh tourists who visit the Dudh Sagar falls every year.
“Even the National Wild Life Action Plan provides that in case of any conflict between tourism and conservation interests of a PA (Protected Area), the paradigm for decision must be that tourism exists for the PAs and not vice versa, and that demands of tourism must be subservient to and in consonance with the conservation interests of PA. While revenues earned from tourism can help the management of the PA, maximization of income must never override the main goal of tourism viz. to educate the visitor and create in them a respect for nature,” a division bench of Justice M S Sonak and Justice M S Jawalkar observed.
In its interim order passed on Wednesday, the court said while there was no difficulty with the PWD undertaking the routine repair and maintenance work of the existing katcha road in the PA, the work reflected in the notings of the PWD “ought not to proceed until the final disposal of this petition or until the respondents obtain necessary approval from NBWL, whichever is earlier.”
The court was hearing a petition filed by the Goa Foundation, which urged the court to restrain the government from undertaking the paver road construction in the Mollem National Park, stating that if the project work starts or is continued, irreversible damage will be caused to the PA and wildlife in it. Goa Foundation’s lawyer Norma Alvares told the court there are no approvals from NBWL, and the project is not even consistent with the National Wild Life Action Plan and the recommendations of NBWL.
Advocate General D J Pangam told the court these works executed by the PWD were pursuant to directions/requests from the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW). He said the works have the approval from the State Board for Wild Life in terms of the minutes recorded on December 2, 2019. Pangam said even the recommendations of the Standing Committee of NBWL, dated April 22, 2014, permit such works in PA. He said the works were necessary for the purposes of effective management of PA.
The court, however, said: “In the present case, at least prima facie, the status quo is proposed to be altered. The project at least prima facie involves the upgradation of the existing katcha road to an almost pucca road, where, pavers will be placed on a bedrock of cement and concrete. Besides, the project involves the conversion of a seasonal road to an all weather road, not to mention the various facilities proposed for tourists like parking bays, toilets, etc. At least prima facie, all this could not have been undertaken without approval from NBWL.”
The court placed the matter for final hearing on October 4, and said the precautionary principle will have to be applied because “the damage to the eco-sensitive PA will be much greater if the proposed works proceed without any approval from NBWL. Since there is no bar to undertaking routine repair and maintenance works to the katcha road as are undertaken every year, even the balance of convenience is not in favour of the respondents (PWD)”.
From the material placed on record, at least prima facie, the CWW has not considered whether such a project is necessary for the purpose of PA. “Rather, the material on record, prima facie, suggests the project is mostly to cater to almost 4.5 lakhs tourists that visit the Dudh Sagar Waterfall by using the existing katcha road,” the court said.
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