Old Goa bungalow: HC quashes order to revoke technical clearance

THE HIGH Court of Bombay at Goa on Thursday quashed an order of the Goa Town and Country Planning department revoking the technical clearance granted for the construction of a bungalow in Old Goa that has been at the centre of protests by a citizen-led movement.

Setting aside the order of the Deputy Town Planner passed on November 30, 2021, the High Court observed that the order was “passed without following principles of natural justice and thereby affecting the civil rights of the petitioner…”

The order was passed in a petition filed by Corvus Urban Infrastructure LLP (CUIL) that had purchased the property in September 2021.

The bungalow has been at the centre of a controversy since locals and civil society groups opposed it’s construction near the St Cajetan Church and the Viceroy’s Arch in Old Goa.

Last year, following persistent protests by citizens, and heat from Opposition parties ahead of the Assembly elections in February, the Goa government had revoked the technical clearance granted to the structure built near the UNESCO world heritage precinct of Old Goa. Subsequently, the village panchayat of Se Old Goa had on December 2, 2021 issued a stop work notice to the under-construction bungalow. The electricity department on January 7 intimated the petitioner for disconnection of installation of electricity connection to the structure.

Mumbai-based CUIL had challenged the orders of the panchayat and the assistant engineer, which were also set aside by the court. The panchayat had also on February 10, 2022 revoked the permission for the construction and resolved to issue a demolition order.

CIUL had contended that it was not given a showcause notice to appear and explain and the state’s action against it had violated the principles of natural justice, was arbitrary and illegal.

Defending the state government’s action, Advocate General Devidas Pangam told the court that issuing a showcause notice would just be an empty formality as the record speaks for itself. He told the court that the government had carried out a detailed inquiry against the structure after receiving complaints, and “it was observed that the petitioner under the garb of repairs of alleged old structure, constructed a new structure/house”. He said the petitioner had contravened the conditions of the technical clearance granted to it.

CIUL’s counsel had, however, argued that the order revoking the technical clearance was perverse because there was no difference in the measurements of the construction.

Justice M S Sonak and Justice Bharat Deshpande observed, “…it is surprising from where the respondent no 2 (deputy town planner) imported such measurements in its order claiming therein that there is a variation in such measurements of both the plans.”

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The CUIL, which bought the property through a sale deed of September 20, 2021, stated that the erstwhile owner Suvarna Lotlikar had obtained various permissions for construction in the name of the first owner of the property – Jose Maria de Goveia Pinto. This, the court recorded, was one of the reasons for revoking the technical clearance. It said, “We consider that such revocation on this ground could have been avoided in case an opportunity would have been given to the petitioner to explain.”

“Non-observance of the principles of natural justice is itself prejudice to any man and proof of prejudice independently of the proof of denial of principles of natural justice is unnecessary. Minimum expectation from such authorities before taking any coercive action is to give an opportunity to the party concerned to put up his defence,” the court observed.

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