Gram sabhas have no say in issuing or revoking construction licences, according to the Town and Country Planning Department’s advisory issued in consultation with government, to the director of panchayats.
The letter, addressed to the directorate of panchayats, cites legal opinion and directs it to disseminate the same to the panchayats. Though the opinion states that sub-section 4 of section 6 declares that the decision taken by the gram sabha is binding and final insofar as the panchayat is concerned, it puts forth the argument that there is no provision in the Goa Panchayati Raj Act permitting the gram sabha to grant permission to either construct or revoke or to interfere with the permission (over construction licence).
The state has witnessed a lot of commotion over mega projects with every gram sabha passing resolutions, refusing to allow mega projects to come up in their villages, demanding better infrastructure before these projects are allowed to come up. Villagers have been complaining that even with present constructions, the amenities such as water supply, electricity and roads have not been able to cope up and if the population shoots up then the present residents would be badly affected.
Also there have been complaints that the sudden increase in housing units would change the demography of the state.
The letter issued by chief town planner, ST Putturaja says, “Time and again a number of gram sabhas across Goa are passing resolutions regarding constructions of multi family dwellings and requesting the town and country planning department to stop issuing NOCs for multi family buildings.”
The letter further reads, “…more particularly relying upon the provisions of the Goa Panchayati Raj Act 1993; as also the judgement of the Honourable High Court reported in 2009(4) BCR 666, that the issuance of construction licences or revocation thereof, are not matters to be dealt with by the Gram Sabha,” the letter which was issued in consultation with the government according to the TCP, says while reproducing the opinion of legal experts.
“Yes we have issued the advisory. Whatever legal opinion we have received, we have circulated it,” the chief town planner told media.
Apparently concerned over repeated demands from gram sabhas to stop NOCs to mega housing projects, the TCP has now stepped in to try and settle the issue which was a flashpoint between villagers and builders, with panchayat bodies being sandwiched in between and many times being accused of being agents of the construction lobby.
In a letter to the Director of Panchayats last month, the TCP Department reproduced the opinions of legal experts to state that the functions of the Gram Sabha, as stipulated in the Goa Panchayati Raj Act mentions that the Sarpanch has to place “certain matters” for approval before the Gram Sabha and matters do not expressly mention any development or construction activity.
“The power of the panchayat to grant or revoke the licence is in terms of the Provisions of the Goa Daman and Diu Village Panchayat (Regulation of Building) Rules 1971 or in terms of the new 2012 Regulations. There cannot be any resolutions passed by the Gram Sabha as it will go contrary to the Provisions of the Panchayati Raj Act,” the letter reads.
Joseph Sequeira (Panch Calangute panchayat)
“The panchayat body is supreme. How can a gram sabha decide for us. Then why have elections? Gram sabhas do not have the power to revoke licences. They can only give suggestions.”
Joseph Vaz (Sarpanch Rachol)
“The gram sabha should not be given the power to decide or reject any construction. This should be given to a technical body appointed under the TCP department from the village.”
Miguel Braganza (member, GBA)
“Gram sabha is empowered by the 73rd amendment. According to it, powers are given to panchayat to decide on rural housing, roads and primary health and education among 29 items listed in the XI schedule. Decision of gram sabha that is not illegal are binding on the panchayat even if it is revocation.”
Soter D’Souza (Centre for Panchayati Raj)
“The legal opinion flashed by the TCP to the Directorate of Panchayats tries to exploit the legal ignorance of the gram sabha members. By harping on the gram sabha powers or no powers in Section 5 and Section 6, the TCP is attempting to safeguard real estate interests and cover up rampant disregard for ethical planning codes that is destroying Goa’s pristine villages.” [H]