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Friday, February 21, 2020

Right To Public Spaces: In Goa, Republic Day celebrated by ‘reclaiming beach’

Goans descended on the beach on Sunday to celebrate a 2009 Supreme Court order in a landmark case against “privatisation of the beach” by Cidade De Goa beach hotels — owned by Fomento Resorts and Hotels Limited.

Written by Smita Nair | Panaji | Updated: January 27, 2020 10:44:50 am
Republic Day, Republic Day Goa, Goa Republic Day, Goa, Dona Paula Vainguinim beach, Goa beach, Goa beaches, privatisation of Goa beach, goa beach, republic day, Indian express At the event on Vainguinim beach, on Sunday. (Express)

The sandwiches came out at sunset, and Oscar, the dog, ran to fetch a frisbee while a happy crowd munched on peanuts and ginger biscuits. Everything at Dona Paula’s Vainguinim beach on Sunday was symbolic — the picnic mats, the swimmers, the cutting chai (tea) and even the reading of the Preamble later in the evening.

Goans descended on the beach on Sunday to celebrate a 2009 Supreme Court order in a landmark case against “privatisation of the beach” by Cidade De Goa beach hotels — owned by Fomento Resorts and Hotels Limited.

The landmark judgment speaks of the right to access public assets. The only pathway to access the Vainguinim beach runs through a star hotel’s property. The “access to the beach” became the win, with this being the only starred property through which a general public walks to the beach till date.

The ‘reclaiming of the beach’ event also comes in the backdrop of another ongoing case in Bombay High Court at Goa where a notice of contempt has been sent to Parimal Rai, Chief Secretary, Goa Government and Environment Secretary Puneet Kumar Goel for not having executed an order to demolish constructions raised by Hotel Marriot on the Miramar beach front, despite court orders. An area of the hotel was found to be in violation of a Coastal Regulation Zone notification issued in 1991 by the higher court.

Back at Vainguinim, 55-year-old Caroline Colaco, a Mapusa resident, spoke “for Goans”, as she recalled a childhood by the beach. “It’s unfortunate when such private hotels stand and block our access, and our idea of growing by the beach. It’s obvious we will take any opportunity to reclaim our beachfront and celebrate it,” she said.

The case was fought over two decades — first in High Court and later in Supreme Court, had Minguel Martins and Goa Foundation as petitioners among others, when Fomento Resorts and Hotels Limited challenged public’s rights to access the beach. The case was fought on the grounds of Article 51 (g) — on duty towards environment and ideals of building welfare state.

Antonio Mascarenhas, a scientist, said the “entire act of coming to celebrate the judgment symbolises the people’s fight for their basic rights. Right of access to public assets is crucial and today, on Republic Day, just walking and having a picnic here is important.”

The case was fought over two decades, first in the High Court and then in the Supreme Court. The HC had ordered had ordered Fomento to open access to the beach. The company challenged the order in the Supreme Court, which upheld the HC’s order. Minguel Martins and the Goa Foundation were petitioners, among others.

“It all started with a brochure in London newspaper saying the beach is private,” said Claude Alvares, founding member of Goa Foundation.

During the course of the litigation, the petitioners traced the sale of land from the original inhabitants of Vaiguinim to owners of the hotel, with a separate acquisition by the government under the The Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for “sports and recreational activities” — which also became the hotel’s property later. All the permissions for construction were issued subject to the public not being “deprived of the beautiful beach”.

All the permissions were given for construction subject to public not being “deprived of the beautiful beach”.

Justices B N Agrawal and G S Singhvi noted public trust doctrine which senior counsel Indira Jaising invoked, stating that it “primarily rests on the principle that certain resources like air, sea, waters and the forests have such a great importance to the people as a whole that it would be wholly unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. These resources are gift of nature, therefore, they should be freely available to everyone irrespective of one’s status in life.”

In its order, the Supreme Court had said, “We reiterate that natural resources including forests, water bodies, rivers, sea shores, etc. are held by the State as a trustee on behalf of the people and especially the future generations.”

On Sunday Robert D’Souza, a Moira native who lives in the UK came to show solidarity to the movement. “Rights of people are protected abroad, where beaches are clean and access is always for the public,” he said.

Two young women, Lyla Freechild and Arunima — who took the lead and read the preamble said — “even the act of reading was huge as the last we read was in school. Today when we read it — every word somehow meant so many things, and meant so much more. These beaches and the water are public assets and it felt great to reach the beach,” said Lyla, originally from Jaipur and “enjoying the liberating beaches of Goa”.

Picnic done — the crowd left for home — walking and “gate crashing” through an oblivious wedding crowd at the hotel as they reclaimed their fundamental right.

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