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Bombay High Court disposes of PIL alleging lack of draft in digital format of Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974

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The Bombay High Court of Goa disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed alleging that in absence of copies of the draft Outline Development Plans (ODPs) in the digital format, the members of public were experiencing considerable difficulties in lodging their objections, or suggestions in response to the notices under Section 35 of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974.

The PIL has been filed by NGO The Goa Bachao Abhiyan.

D. J. Pangam, Advocate General, made a statement before the Court that the Town and Country Planning Department will, hereafter, upload the draft Outline Development Plans (ODPs) within one week from the date of publication of notice under Section 35 of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 (said Act).

The Advocate General stated that the Town and Country Planning Department will comply with the above statement, provided the respective Planning and Development Authorities (PDAs) forward the draft ODPs in the digital format.

Norma Alvares, the counsel for the petitioners, stated that presently all the PDAs forward the draft ODPs in the digital formats.

Considering the march of technology, the Division Bench of Justice M. S. Sonak and Justice R.N. Laddha said that there should be no difficulty for any of the PDAs to forward the draft ODPs to the Town and Country Planning Department in digital formats.

Accordingly, the Court directed all the PDAs to forward such draft ODPs in the digital formats to the Town and Country Planning Department, so that the Department can effectively comply with the statement now made by the Advocate General.

The Advocate General clarified that the above statement is in the nature of a concession only.

Norma Alvares, the counsel for the petitioners, submitted that the Petitioners are presently satisfied with the above statement, but this satisfaction is without prejudice to the Petitioners’ right to agitate the larger issues raised by them in this Petition on an appropriate occasion, if the need arises.

Therefore, without going into the larger issues raised in this Petition, or adjudicating upon the rival contentions, the Court appreciated and accepted the concession made by the Advocate General through his above statement.

Since the Bench have accepted this statement, the Town and Country Planning Department will have to abide by the same hereafter. The PDAs will also have to abide by our direction to forward the draft ODPs in digital format to the Town and Country Planning Department hereafter, directed by the Court.

The Court clarified that what it has recorded is only the concession made by the Advocate General and, therefore, nothing in this order is intended to either decide the rival contentions or the legality or validity of the ODPs/proceedings, including the issue of limitation.

The Petitioners had pointed out that with the march of technology, even the members of the public have got used to evaluating such documents in digital formats.

Alvares has also contended that the letter and spirit of the provisions of the RTI Act require the State and its Authorities to make available such documents digitally on their websites.

“Again, we make it clear that we are not foreclosing any of the contentions of the Petitioners or for that matter, of the Respondents. For the present, we are only recording the concession made by the learned Advocate General and directing the Town and Country Planning Department to act accordingly. Further, we have issued directions to the PDAs, so that the Town and Country Planning Department can abide by the concession now made by the learned Advocate General,” the order reads.

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