PIL Challenging Section 17(2) of the Town & Country Planning Act, 1974

The Bombay High Court at Goa on 27.6.2023 has issued notice on a fresh PIL writ petition challenging Section 17 (2) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1974. The PIL has been filed by three environmental organizations including the Goa Foundation, the Khazan Society of Goa and the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA).

The court has posted the matter for further consideration on 24th July 2023, after respondents file their affidavits.

The Public Interest Petition seeks an order to quash and set aside the newly added Section 17 (2) of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 which seeks to allow ad-hoc and arbitrary conversions of privately owned plots in the Regional Plan, based simply on individual applications from such parties on the grounds of alleged errors that need to be corrected in the said Plan. The petition challenges the constitutional validity of such a provision, recently introduced into law. Immediately after the amendment was notified into law, several dubious zone changes have been notified with amazing speed.

Section 17 (2) of the Town and Country Planning Act was inserted by way of an amendment to the Act on 1st March 2023. In many ways, the specific section appears to be similar to the provisions of Section 16B of the same Act by which the government was empowered to entertain applications for change of zone of private parties on various grounds. PILs challenging the constitutional validity of Section 16B are pending final hearing before the Bombay High Court.

Under the section 17(2) provision, however, the government is empowered to change so called “erroneously” zoned plots in the existing Regional Plan 2021 on payment of set fees and charges. The rules framed under Section 17(2) enable private individuals to file applications to seek correction of such allegedly wrong zoning of their plots in Regional Plan 2021.
The government has appointed on May 25 a Scrutiny Committee which will ostensibly oversee the applications for change of zone made by parties. However, the PIL shows that several zone changes have been made even prior to setting up of the Scrutiny Committee. Subsequent to the notification of 17(2) in the Gazette, the government has accepted applications from 24 individuals, all of them real estate developers, for change of alleged errors of the plots purchased by them. In all cases, the so called errors require conversion of agricultural lands, forests areas and no development slopes to settlement status.

Petitioners has annexed a copy of the Face Book post of Town and Country Planning Minister Vishwajit Rane who has claimed that some 6 crores sq.mt of land have been erroneously zoned as private forest, agricultural lands and no development slopes and need to be changed to allow for development, as the parties are suffering from this wrong zoning of their plots in Regional Plan 2021.

Such arbitrary conversions are leading to rampant and un-balanced development in the state of Goa in favour of big builders as they uniformly involve permanent destruction of hill slopes, fields and natural cover (forest) and are contrary to the interest of the citizens and incompatible with the ecological requirements and resources of the state. They in effect destroy the statutory Regional Plan 2021 in force, render wholly worthless the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 itself, violate Article 14 and are totally contrary to planned development.

The Petitioners have also challenged the provisions that permit the rezoning of standalone plots, as the definition and interpretation of zoning cannot but mean common land use across several adjoining plots or areas.

The petition has included evidence of vast revision of value of the properties during the process of zone application and change. In one instance of zone change in Anjuna, the property was purchased in December for 74 lakhs and re-sold in June after zone change for Rs.6.8 crores. In another property involving natural cover at Assagao, the land was sold at Rs.60 crores.

The petitioners are wholly opposed to the insertion of Section 17 (2) in the Act and have called for its quashing. They have asked for the quashing of the 24 Gazette Notification changes allowed on the grounds of colorable exercise of power and grant of government largesse to real estate developers. The petitioners will amend the petition as and when the new notifications are issued so that every change of zone under Section 17 (2) will have to face a challenge before the High Court.

Zone in RP 2021 Category in RP 2021 Zone change area (sq mts) Percentage
Paddy fields agriculture A1 18,458 10.11%
Natural cover NC 83,385 45.67%
Orchard A2 80,720 44.21%
Totals 1,82,563 100.00%