The Director General of Police, Director of Mines and Geology and Goa State Pollution Control Board found themselves in the dock over a complaint filed by Buddha Arjun Gaonkar alleging large-scale illegal quarrying in the villages of Barkatem, Mollem and Dharbandora.
Gaonkar had filed several complaints before various government departments, the first of which was on September 14, 2020. However, since no action was forthcoming Gaonkar finally approached the High Court of Bombay at Goa.
The petitioner alleged that large-scale quarrying for laterite stones was undertaken with the help of earth-moving machinery, prompting the court to immediately direct officials to visit the site and stop the work if not backed by permissions.
Role of PI questioned
In the afternoon on the same day, a two-member bench comprising Justices R N Laddha and M S Sonak took up the matter when the government advocate stated that no quarrying works were being undertaken at the site and admitted that no permissions had been granted. It was also brought to the notice of the court that an FIR against unknown persons was lodged on July 25, 2022.
But the court saw through the smoke screen. It asked why an FIR was lodged on July 25, 2022, when the complaint was filed in 2020. The court also sought to know why the FIR was lodged against unknown persons when the names of the perpetrators were mentioned in the complaint.
Accordingly, the court directed the DGP to inquire into the role of the PI in charge of the Collem police station, ensure that an investigation is conducted and report back to the court on August 17.
GSPCB officials had visited the site
The High Court pointed out that the earliest complaint made to the Director General of Mines and Geology is dated September 21, 2020, and asked the department what action it had taken between the time the complaint was filed and now and file an affidavit in this respect. It also noted that if steps had been taken within a reasonable time such large-scale quarrying would not have taken place.
During the hearing, it became apparent that two officials of the Goa State Pollution Control Board had visited the site. The court wanted to know if any show-cause notice was issued and directed the GSPCB to file an affidavit on action taken.
No cognisance of complaints taken
Since the site in question falls in an eco-sensitive area declared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the petitioner filed a complaint before the chief secretary in March this year. The undersecretary (revenue) simply forwarded the copy of the complaint to the Collector (South Goa) for appropriate action.
Inaction by the government prompted the High Court to state that, “prima facie it appears the petitioners' complaints were simply forwarded by the officials who were required to look into the same and take immediate action. No effective actions were ever taken. Meanwhile, large-scale quarrying activity and theft of laterite stones continued unabated. Even the panchayat authorities chose not to take any action in the matter.”