Protection Of Goa’s Environment
“When I was going to Canacona, my greatest pleasure was to enjoy the greenery on both sides of the road. One day I noticed a big difference – one hill was completely bald. Next day, I went to see Mr Pratapsingh Rane, who was the chief minister and raised this issue. This led me to bring a private members bill in the Assembly for the protection of trees.”
~ Luizinho Faleiro
Second to the ‘Konkani as Official Statehood and Statehood’ campaigns, was Luizinho Faleiro’s quest to save Goa’s once glorious natural heritage. With the tourism boom of the 1980s and pressure on land for housing complexes and resorts, the natural environment became the immediate casualty. The biggest employer –mining, was also playing havoc with Goa environment as also sand extraction.
Speaking about his Private Members Bill in the Goa Assembly Luizinho said, “I emphasized that Goa’s nature is very rich and endowed with greenery and wealth. However due to mining and rampant cutting of trees the last green forests are rapidly converted into bushes and from bushes to cacti and from cacti to rocks. These hills have only five feet of soil, below which there are rocks, when this soil is eroded, plantation of trees is impossible. The government was forced to send my bill to the Select Committee. The same bill was rechristened by the Government and passed by the Assembly as ‘The Goa Daman & Diu Preservation Of Trees Act 1984′.
Tree Authority: Luizinho Faleiro’s Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Bill, proposed the setting up of a Tree Authority with Development Commissioner or Secretary as Chairman, with district Collector, two MLAS, two members of local bodies as members and Conservator of Forests as Member Secretary. The Tree Authority was mandated with the responsibility of preservation of all trees, carrying out census of existing trees and obtaining the number of trees on private lands from the owners /occupants to make a realistic assessment of Goa’s natural tree cover.
Functions: Similarly, the Authority was charged with development and maintenance of nurseries, supply of seeds and saplings to replace trees that had been felled. The Tree Authority had also to ensure that if trees were to be cut for construction/expansion of roads, buildings or if they posed danger to life and property, they would be replanted. the authority would also assist public and private institutions in plant and preservation of trees. A healthy balance of trees were to be maintained providing shades by the roadsides, public parks, gardens, river banks, lakes and shores. The authority was also to study the proposals of various government department and private bodies for construction of buildings, roads, factories, irrigation works and laying of utility services so as to ensure protection of trees. The bill envisaged that the Trees Authority would acquire and develop properties for wood lots, gardens, parks, picnic spots in cities, towns and villages for recreation.
Tree Officer: Given the fact that Goa was witnessing a Real Estate boom, with Gulf Money and tourists creating additional burden on the land, it was mandated that no trees could be felled without prior permission of the Tree Officer and according to the prescribed rules, except when there was grave danger to life or property or traffic, where the Tree Officer had to be notified within 24 hours of such felling. The permission would be granted or not granted after onsite inspection within a period of 60 days. The officer could not refuse permission if the tree posed danger, was diseased, dead or caused obstruction to traffic or was required for fuel, fodder or for making agricultural implement or used for domestic purposes.
The Tree Officer was to encourage land owners to plant, preserve trees on their lands and protect them from damage. There were also punitive clauses in the Act wherein if a person who was obligated to plant trees did not follow directions within 30 working days, the trees would be planted and the expenses charged to him.
Adopt trees: Another innovative feature of the Act was the corporates or institutions were allowed to adopt trees with written permission, and thereafter take the responsibility of its maintenance and preservation. Any person illegally found felling trees, stood to lose his machinery, boats, vehicles and the timber which could be auctioned. The Act went a step further and allowed the Tress Officer or a Forest Officer or a Police Officer not below PSI rank to arrest without warrant any person suspected of offence under the Act. The officers also had powers to release the property of the guilty on payment of fines. Companies violating the provisions of the Act would also faced the possibility of being prosecuted and punished accordingly.
Penalties: The Bill prescribed penalties which included conviction, and imprisonment of up to one year or fine. To prevent misuse of the Act any Officer who unnecessarily and vexatiously arrests persons or seizes property would be punished with six months jail and fines. The government however could exempt certain class of trees or certain areas from the purview of the act or allow felling of certain trees in public interest.
This was another legislation which was dear to Luizinho Faleiro since, from the legal angle at least, there were provisions to stop the destruction of nature.