THE High Court of Bombay at Goa on Tuesday issued notices to Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s son Abhijat Parrikar after a petition alleged his eco-tourism project Hideaway Hospitality responsible for “massive deforestation” and “cutting open forested land” adjoining eco-sensitive Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary, and within the one kilometre land identified as Eco Sensitive Zone. The petition also questioned clearance given for a second project alongside, a construction of a cow shed.
The petitioners, Abhijit Dessai, deputy sarpanch of village panchayat of Netravali, Sanguem and a panch from the panchayat Prakash Bhagat, have also alleged misuse of government machinery, with the state government rushing to “promulgate a tailor made ordinance” to the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 . The ordinance the petitioners have told the court, allow the promoters of such project to escape procedure required for conversion of land and it was first introduced specially to “ facilitate the chief Minister’s son’s project”, the petition reads.
The division bench headed by Justices Mahesh Sonak and Prithviraj Chavan, have now directed Abhijat Parrikar, shown as promoter of Hideaway Hospitality and other respondents including state Chief Secretary, Secretary Environment and Forests, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to respond by March 11.
In Court, advocate Carlos Alvares Ferreira , representing the petitioners stressed on the sequence of dates suggests that everything was moved in a hurried manner, with no documents made available by Abhijat Parrikar on the project to the state government’s Investment Promotion Board. Dessai has also informed the High Court that the state machinery has issued externment orders against him, soon after he started probing the project.
During the delinientation of eco-sensitive zones, with Goa having six wildlife sanctuaries, the eco boundaries of two —Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, was be done in a a phased out manner with the state appealing that mines were in the proximity. The petition adds that MoEF finally notified the Eco Sensitive Zone for the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in February 17, 2015, with the Central Government identifying it as part of Western Ghats, and home to endangered species like bison, and black panthers. The Notification also specifically protects the area and the boundaries of the wildlife eco-sensitive zone prohibiting any new construction inside the one kilometre land from the natural borders. Ferreira lawyer for the petitioner told the court Parrikar’s projects, both the eco resort and the cow shed are inside the prohibited limit.
He further told the court, “that the material used for construction of the projects according to norms have to be of ex-friendly products like wood, or wooden houses etc. Parrikar’s project is of RCC structure,” the court was informed, with huge excavation in progress. The Petition has also pointed that the Zonal Master Plan for eco tourism related activities had to be prepared and presented by the state government to MoEF, which is pending till date. A zonal Master Plan allows all projects to be put under public scrutiny with suggestions pouring from all stake holders ensuring all the laws of the land are followed.
The deed documents which were presented to court state that a total of 83,625 square meters were purchased from villagers for Rs 95,21, 387 in 2013. A year later, in 2014, the Goa Government under Parrikar passed the Goa Investment Promotion Act, 2014 with Investment Promotion Board seen as the executing agency for facilitation of investment in to the state. “Even before the rules of IPB were being Framed, Abhijat Manohar Parrikar made an application for Hideway Hospitality with no documents submitted giving details of the future project,” reads the petition. The IPB later forwards the proposal to the State’s forest department asking to identify if the land is forest land or notified. The Deputy Conservator of Forests, the petition’s Annexure shows, only responds to the minimum, adding that the property “is nether Government forest” nor “is it identified as private land”, but “shares common boundary with the Netravali Forest Sanctuary”. While IPB will have to respond their stand on how the project got technical clearance, the High Court has also sent notice to State Eco Sensitive Zone Monitoring Committee (SESZMC), after the petitioners asked if a state body “has the power or jurisdiction to grant any approval for any eco-tourism or otherwise, any permission in notified ESZ area without even the preparation of the Zonal Master Plan?”
In their plea, the petitioners have asked the High Court to pass an order to revert the land to its original condition, and carry out afforestation again.Repeated messages to Abhijat did not get any response. With the state gearing for bye elections and with general elections soon, the petition has become a point of argument between Congress and BJP, with the Congress calling for a “complete independent probe”.
BJP state leader Vinay Tendulkar said that Manohar Parrikar has assured the party that he will respond at the right time. “We know Parrikar’s son will never be involved in any illegalities. Parrikar has told us that he will respond on all the points to the authorities concerned. Congress can say anything. The matter now is in court but we can assure everyone that Government machinery was never misused. This is what Parrikar has told us.”