Panaji: Goa government’s decision to de-recognise coconut palm as a tree was slammed by a parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests on Saturday.
The committee, headed by Rajya Sabha member Ashwani Kumar, blamed the state government for its “tardy implementation of environmental laws and regulation”, and recommended a review of the controversial legislation.
Addressing a press conference, following a day-long discussion with state government officials, tourism and mining industry stakeholders and civil society groups, Ashwani Kumar said: “There was the issue of the definition of forests in which a coconut tree in Goa is not regarded as a tree, is regarded as grass which we found extremely unusual.
“We have recommended that a review of the definition of tree, under the tree protection act be undertaken,” he said.
“In law, we have to see the net effect of things. If the absence of a clear and an unambiguous description of a particular species, leads to its destruction, then surely the law will need to be changed,” he said.
The Opposition as well as civil society has repeatedly accused the BJP-led coalition government of amending the Goa Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984 and dropping the tree status accorded to the coconut palm in order to hasten real estate and industrial development at the cost of the environment.
State Forest Minister Rajendra Arlekar has defended the amendment, saying a coconut palm does not fit the definition of a tree even botanically.
Ashwani Kumar, then a union minister for law and justice in the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government, also found fault with the Goa government’s track record on implementation of green laws.
He said the parliamentary committee has directed that a representative of the union ministry of environment and forests should engage with the state government to “find ways and means to implement in letter and spirit all possible laws intended to protect the environment”.
“We have put on record our displeasure at the tardy implementation of environmental laws and regulation,” he said.
Ashwani Kumar also raised the issue of the Investment Promotion Board, which was set up by the Goa government to facilitate speedy clearances.
“We also discussed about the single window clearances accorded by the Investment (Promotion) Board of Goa whereby a general exemption was given (vis a vis) obtaining of various clearances.
“It’s not the right way to go about it. We believe that in non-notified industrial areas also, the requirement of obtaining all clearances was necessary,” he said.