Five star emergency

 
By Nidhi Jamwal
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 02:50:09 AM

Goa government issues ordinance to save resort

THE troubles faced by Goa's five star beach resort--Hotel Cidade de Goa--amount to a state emergency. At least one would think so from the Goa administration's decision to intervene in the hotel's interest. On March 2, the state governor, S S Sidhu, promulgated an ordinance amending a 114-year-old law. The amendment to the land acquisition act of 1894 has saved the hotel's illegal extensions from demolition for the time being.

Ordinances are promulgated in public interest when the administration has to deal with an emergency and it is not possible to wait for the assembly session to convene. The hurry therefore shown to save the unauthorized construction of one hotel, through an ordinance, was beyond comprehension to many. "The ordinance is a shameful way of shielding the hotel property," said Sebastian Rodrigues, an environmental activist with Goa-based adivasi resource rights centre. A local action group, Save Goa Campaign, termed the ordinance a mockery of law.

Beach became private
As a face saving measure, the government claimed the ordinance was not meant to benefit the hotel alone, but also hundreds of structures along the coastline that were issued demolition notices under the coastal regulation zone act of 1991. "Over 2,000 such structures have been issued a demolition notice by the high court as they fall within 200 metres of the high-tide line," said water resources minister Filipe Rodrigues. Activists pointed out the state cannot intervene to stop demolitions ordered under the central law.

Cidade de Goa is a luxury resort in Goa. The sprawling low-rise buildings, designed to resemble a Portuguese hill hamlet, occupy 16 hectares of prime land on Vainguinim beach, seven kilometres south of Panaji. Fomento Resorts and Hotels Limited, owns the hotel. Trouble started when the proprietors constructed 50 extra rooms and facilities, without permission. This cut off public access to the beach making it a private beach exclusively for hotel guests.

Court appeals
The illegal constructions attracted public attention and numerous petitions were filed in the Bombay high court. The petitions cited the original agreement between the state government and Fomento in 1983, which said the public should have access to the beach.

After hearing the petitioners and the hotel owners, the Bombay high court on April 25, 2000, ordered demolition of the unauthorized portions. The court upheld the demand for access to the beach.

The Supreme Court upheld the high court decision in its order dated January 20, 2009, after the petitioner--Goa Foundation, a non-profit--invoked the public trust doctrine and said the public's right cannot be denied. But the state counsel defended the hotel in the court saying opening the beach to the public was a security threat.

The apex court directed demolitions be carried out by April 20.

But before that the governor issued the land acquisition (Goa amendment) ordinance, 1894. It empowers the state government to modify any agreement with the company.

"Any clause prohibiting the company from constructing buildings on the acquired land shall be deleted with retrospective effect from October 15, 1964," the ordinance said.

Civil rights groups said they will continue their fight for justice. "The intent behind the ordinance needs to be challenged. We'll demand a discussion on the ordinance in the assembly. The petitioner can challenge it in the court," said Sabina Martins, convenor of Save Goa Campaign.

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