When investment eats environment

May 12th, 2017 Posted In: environment

Team TNV

The much hyped ‘Goa investment promotion’ concept, launched way back in November 2014 by the then BJP-led government, with a promise to bring in Rs 25,000 crore investment in five years might have managed to attract the investors to invest in Goa (though not to the extent it promised) – but on a larger front it drew flak from the people over various controversial projects like distillery and brewery, that they approved to be set up in this small state.
Under former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, the government had enacted Goa Investment Promotion Act 2014 for facilitating single window clearance for the investors to invest in the State. Pursuant to this Act, the ‘Goa Investment Promotion and Facilitation Board (IPFB), a statutory body was constituted for speedy clearance of investment proposals above Rs 5 crore. The Board was marred in controversies, with demand for its scrapping coming right from political front to the NGOs and green activists.
As the term of the Board ended in December, last year, just before the State Assembly elections, all eyes were set on Manohar Parrika-led coalition government on whether it will go ahead with IPFB or scrap it. The hopes were high considering that the coalition government had Ministers like Vijay Sardessai and Rohan Khaunte, who were most vocal against the IPFB.
But whatever said and done, the BJP-led coalition government on May 5 re-constituted the IPFB under chairmanship of Parrikar. But what was interesting is, appointment of Khaunte as vice chairman, being the Minister for Information and Technology.
“We are not surprised at all with the decision to re-constitute the Board. We have been saying it right from the beginning that IPFB is money making tool for the BJP and now to its coalition partners. The first u-turn of the BJP led coalition government has come and there are many more to come,” Congress chief spokesperson Sunil Kawthankar told TNV.
“We have not done any u-turn. We never said that the Board should be scrapped, we were talking about certain models like red category industries introduced through IPFB in the name of investment. We are not going to allow anything that is not in the interest of Goa and its people. The newly formed Board will keep all the aspects like pollution, employment, land, into mind while granting permissions,” Revenue Minister and vice chairman of IPFB Rohan Khaunte said.
The IPFB has been criticized on two grounds – for allowing projects in agriculture, orchards and other green areas, and for bypassing all other forms of governance, including village institutions.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi chanted slogan that the environment and development should go hand in hand ensuring complete protection of green resources, the Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa, was on a different mode altogether. The biggest challenge to Goa and its ecology, had appeared to be from IPFB.
The Investment Promotion Act 2014, which governs the functioning of IPFB, overrules all the state laws like the Regional Plan, the Outline Development Plan, all other Acts of local bodies, the TCP Acts and the land revenue code to facilitate industries. “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other State law for the time being in force, the Board shall, for the purpose of promoting and facilitating investments, exercise the powers of any statutory authority, Board or agency under the government,” the Act stated.
The NGO’s, environmentalists and activists have been catalysts in the growing public opinion that this Act was introduced to remove impediments in the way of hotels, resorts and factories, in Goa’s race against time to get investments pouring into the state. “IPFB is nothing but a destruction tool. In the name of investments, the government has bulldozed upon the green areas. All the norms and regulations are thrown to wind. How can government allow projects in the village areas without consulting the locals and the village bodies there? The Act is nothing but murder of democracy,” Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) convener Sabina Martins said.
Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which was on Goa visit last year, called the IPB Act as a “destructive law” and “against the environment”.
And yes it was a destructive law- Not one but as many as three red category industries in form of liquor and brewery were granted permissions to set up in the State that planned to invest nearly Rs 200 crore. For facilitating the project by Delhi based Vani Agro Pvt Ltd, the government in a surprising move, amended the Tree Preservation Act, declassifying the coconut as tree, thereby granting permissions to cut as many as 1000 coconut trees in Amdai village of Sanguem.
Moreover, it also allowed Rs 700 crore Marina project in biodiversity hot spot areas. Also a 500 room hotel project of M/s Ozone Leisure and Resorts Pvt Ltd, promoters of the Vanxim resort- were granted permission in No Development Zone (NDZ). The project is almost Rs 750 crore.
Some of these controversial projects dragged government to the High Court. During a recent submission before the Court, the State said that IPFB is not the final authority for granting permissions but the project proponent will have to seek individual permission from concerned authorities including village bodies.
Since its inception in November 2014 till December 2016, the Board held eleven meetings granting in-principle approvals to 152 projects with total proposed investment of Rs 11,759.41 crore with employment potential of 26,600 persons. The interesting part to note was, for facilitating these projects, it allowed land conversion of over 3 lakh sq mtrs of area from non-settlement/commercial to settlement/commercial.
As per the information available with the TNV, of the total 152 projects approved by the previous Board, 26 percent of the projects consists of hospitality which has brought in a total investment of Rs 4500 crore. This includes five-star resorts, shopping malls, eco-tourism projects, etc. Also, there are another 45 percent expansion projects while the balance are new projects. A very little focus has been on introducing manufacturing or IT or institutional projects. All these comprises of only 29 percent of the total projects sanctioned for the State.
Interestingly, of these, not even 10 percent of the projects have commenced its operation. “Hardly five percent, which are expansions and small hotel projects have started operation. The major projects that can generate employment in hundreds, is yet to begin any ground works,” IPFB sources said.
Major Projects Approved By Previous Board
Vedanta Resources Rs 1225 crore pig iron plant expansion, Rs 700 crore two marina projects, Rs 750 crore five-star project by M/s Ozone Leisure and Resort Pvt ltd, Alcohol unit by Vani Agro at a cost of Rs 111.37 crore, Health Drinks by M/s Barmalt Malting (India) Pvt ltd, with an investment of Rs 250 crore, MRF Limited expansion for production from six lakh tyres to 13 lakh tyres per year, (hospitality 500 crore), Rs 100 crore rope way project from Panaji to Reis Magos, Rs 500 crore hotel project at Porvorim, Mini India Project and Aquaculture Farm
Projects That Sparked Controversies
A- Vani Agro Pvt Ltd Alcohol unit at Amdai in Sanguem
The IPFB is notorious for giving clearances where the land is not designated to have industries or hotels. This is often forested land. So, a piece of land with over thousand coconut trees and cashew trees was changed overnight from agricultural to industrial land. This happened in the widely reported case in Sanguem, where Vani Agro’s distillery was allowed to come up by clearing 1,000 coconut and 500 cashew trees. That the permission to clear then for the distillery was given before the coconut palm was reclassified shows how powerful the IPB was. The project was strongly opposed by the locals as well as political parties like Congress and Goa Forward, who all together demanded scrapping the same.
B- M/s Ozone Leisure
and Resort Pvt ltd
The project approved by IPB, in 2015, was held up since 2010 following protest from the Vanxim islanders. The land belongs to the Archdioceses of Goa and Daman and the same was sold out to the private player for setting up resort. The eco esort in Vanxim has an island, rich in biodiversity. Surrounded by the Mandovi river, the land mostly comprises of paddy fields, khazan lands, water bodies and mangroves. The project also came close to Neturlim wildlife sanctuary. The project approvals are currently challenged before the High Court.
C- Marina Projects at Sacoale
and Nauxi
Both the projects were strongly opposed by then local MLAs and the fishermen folk, who claimed that the project will destroy their livelihood. Both the projects are currently kept on hold, after opposition and the Goa Biodiversity Board declared the Sacoale area as biodiversity hot spot and said no to the projects. It saw agitations from the local fishing communities.


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Team TNV

The author is a senior Journalist working in Goa for last one and half decade with the experience of covering wide-scale issues ranging from entertainment to politics and defense.

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