All the proposed amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act as well as Section 16B have been withdrawn by Vishwajit Rane. That was definitely one of the biggest news stories of this month, second to the defections of the Congress MLAs, and came just as the opposition to the proposed amendments was building up, but even before it could reach a point of confrontation. There were objections filed and protests in Panjim and Margao; people protested outside the TCP office in Panjim. But rarely has any government bowed down to the wishes of the people quite as easily.
Does this signify that the government is finally in tune with the wishes of the people? Or is it a tactical move on a larger political chessboard that awaits a final move in the game? Time will answer the question. But against the backdrop of eight new MLAs entering the governing party, the speculation of ministers being dropped to accommodate some new entrants and a reshuffle of portfolios, the possibility of a larger political game being played cannot be ruled out.
Here is a point to ponder: if Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has scored brownie points for setting up a special investigation team to dig into the fraudulent land deals in the state, his Town and Country Planning Minister, Vishwajit Rane, now takes all the credit for acting to protect the land from zone changes. These are both issues that revolve around the land, have affected the people and drawn much attention. These are issues that touch a chord with the people of Goa.
People have been objecting to various decisions or proposed decisions of the government, not just in recent times, but in the past too. Nevertheless, decisions from the government in favour of the people have not come easily.
Take for instance the contentious Section 16B that was added to the Town and Country Planning Act, which has been a bone of contention and was challenged in court where the case is still under process.
The amended section has also met the same fate as the proposed amendments, but not before the people went to court and there are over 7000 applications for zone changes under the amended section, some of which were given provisional approval and others were given final approval. But it is only now that the government decided to revoke it. What brought about the change of mind?
The new government is just six months old with a strong majority – engineered through defections that have been chronicled in detail. Given its strength, it might have attempted to brazen it out on the proposed amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act, especially since it has displayed a resoluteness until now that made it unlikely to blink first on an issue that had not yet assumed a full passionate opposition.
A point to illustrate this is how the government has stayed adamant on the three linear projects despite massive protests over a sustained period of time. It is only the Supreme Court that found the arguments of the people valid, and the Central Empowered Committee that visited Goa made recommendations in favour of the people’s opinions, validating these arguments. Even now, the government has not changed its stance on the linear projects.
And there is more. There is currently opposition building up to the proposed Jetty Policy that was recently released by the government and for which suggestions from the people have been invited. Will the government act on that too and scrap it as objections to this policy are being filed and questions are being raised? Should that happen, it will actually indicate that this government is listening to the people.
Yet, while political parties, other than the Revolutionary Goans Party and the Aam Aadmi Party, had not got into the act of opposing the proposed amendments, it was the people who led this protest, seeking that the proposed amendments be withdrawn. There were different groups, but all had one aim and that was the scrapping of the proposed amendments to the TCP Act.
What has been seen here is truly a victory of the people, who united to ensure that the amendments would not go through. Let that not be taken away from them, even if there may have been political motives for the decision. It does indicate that when the people are firm on a certain issue, the government will listen and act, as has been done in this case.
The issue, however, has not ended as the proposals will go to an expert committee that will hear the views of all stakeholders before taking a decision. The vigilance of the people cannot be slackened as all objections to the proposed amendments have to be explained to the committee so that a very educated decision can be taken. That will give closure to the issue of proposed amendments to the TCP Act.