Special Status for Goa? A far cry!

By Cleofato A Coutinho
30 July 2012 13:13 IST

For some time now, after different village groups and NGOs have become active, a demand called ‘Special Status for Goa’ to be conferred under Art. 371 of the Constitution of India have gathered momentum. It is a fact that the tiny state of Goa is getting overwhelmed. Even the BJP Chief Minister of Goa has agreed to lead an all party delegation to the Central Government. Earlier Congress party promised such a Special Status.

The Goa MPs Shantaram Naik (Congress) and Shripad Naik (BJP) have both moved private member’s bills seeking special status for Goa. The special status sought for Goa is on the lines of Nagaland and other North Eastern States.  Shantaram Naik’s bill only seeks to restrict foreigners buying houses and land.

Despite a large scale migration of Goans particularly from the upper middle classes from the Coastal areas to countries like England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc., Goa as a sea side holiday destination has created a problem of being overwhelmed which we are unable to deal with. After liberation our state was given a new direction as a sea side holiday destination for people from all over the world. Today we boast about the lakhs of foreign and domestic tourists coming to Goa. We have put all our economic eggs in the tourism basket.

The holiday destination direction have made Goa a haven for a second home (holiday homes) for the rich of North India leading to a high demand for housing. The developmental activity that started after liberation has also led to large scale influx of lower middle class/labour class into our state due to opportunities for labour class and small traders. Migration for opportunities is a global phenomenon but our problem in Goa is the problem of our smallness, due to which both in terms of population and land we tend to get overwhelmed.

The areas of concern are (i) employment where there is a decreasing employment opportunities with increasing number of qualified people both from inside and those entering the state.  (ii) politically it is felt that locals are loosing their dominance in electoral politics due to the two-way migration referred to hereinabove. (iii) in the area of real estate, demand for housing has led to large construction activity and the old village landscape is changing into concrete areas.

There is a fear that the villages are loosing its character due to huge housing complexes and entry of persons who buy residences in the villages leading to gated communities had led to the demand for special status. The demand for special status has its basis in an argument that being small and already overwhelmed, we need protection and our land cannot be permitted to be sold to those who are not domiciled in Goa. The Goan landlords sell their properties as a part of best bargain for their land since market forces have pushed the property prices sky high. It is felt that this trend can be halted by baring sale to those who are not domiciled.

Demand for special status is normally made on the economic ground whereby states demand special economic package. But herein Goa our demand for special status is barring sale of property and houses to those not of Goan origin. Whether such a demand can be met in the teeth of some provisions of the Constitution which are of fundamental nature is the question to which nobody bothers to pay attention. Earlier there was a movement demanding that Non Goans leave Goa. Vasco-da-Gama became a target then. Now the demand is for Special Status. It is politically convenient to promise the moon!

Article 19 (e) of the Constitution in the chapter of fundamental rights guarantees to all citizens right to reside and settle anywhere in the country thus removing all internal barriers within India. It will have to be kept of mind that the provision of residence and settlement is almost universal in all countries including countries like Sri-Lanka and Pakistan. When it comes to residence and settlement it is not be possible to discriminate against the persons (citizens in particular) in the matter of civic amenities and the right to reside and settle in any part of the country. However certain discrimination in areas of admission to educational institutions on grounds of domicile to a limited extent is permissible. Restriction on residence and settlement is not possible unless restrictions are imposed on grounds of ‘public interest’ and ‘in the interest of scheduled tribes’.

If we examine restrictions based on the ground of public interest it can be noticed that restrictions are brought in “red light areas” and or prohibition on criminals from residing in certain areas.

The States from North East have imposed restrictions are in the interest of ‘scheduled tribes’. Restriction can be brought in the interest of scheduled tribes. Scheduled tribes are considered backward and unsophisticated class who due their backwardness are exploited by various persons taking advantage of their poverty, ignorance and gullibility thus depriving them of their lands. Tribal areas need such protection. Hence Constitution and the laws treat tribals and tribal areas differently. Laws are made preventing other citizens in settling in tribal areas and/or buying tribal areas. To my mind none of the permissible grounds of restriction under the constitution apply to Goa case for special status.

There is no other restriction that could be brought about within the exiting provisions of article 19 (e) and 19 (5) of the Constitution of India.  A developing state is bound to be seen as a land of opportunities and that is the cost of portraying this tiny state as a holiday destination. People are bound to get attracted to the place. 

To my mind the demand to ban sale of property for residence and settlement is almost impossible in view of constitutional guarantee of residence and settlement. It has to be noted that the demand requires a change to the Constitution of India to water down the effect of fundamental rights to reside anywhere in the Country, something that is guaranteed to all citizens of the country. That we are getting overwhelmed shall not fit in the present scheme of constitution. It makes no sense chasing the unachievable. Solution has to be found within the existing frame work of law, land laws and planning laws.  

A developing economy and/or a developing state shall have to deal with certain social costs not to our liking but that has to be tackled by law and law alone. To what extent land would be used for housing, commercial and industrial activity ought to be on the basis of the requirement of the developing state. Conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural ought to be banned and made penal. Once the embargo on use of agricultural land for purposes other than agricultural is made penal and the eco sensitive zones, slopes and forests are protected, the cry for special status shall subside and the administration ought to be seen as serious on that count.  No doubt that will push the cost of housing to limits which the locals cannot afford.

The second home syndrome shall have to be tackled with non occupation taxes and application of FEMA Regulations strictly but those regulations may not affect the rich who wish to have a second home. But in a developing society, a complete embargo on residence and settlement is neither acceptable nor civilized, though locally it may be extremely popular.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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