Special Status: A dream impossible

By Cleofato A Coutinho
01 May 2013 10:59 IST

Every five year, as parliamentary elections draw close, demand for Special Status for Goa becomes shrill. This time Shantaram Naik moved a private member’s bill in Parliament and the Goa assembly has passed an unanimous resolution.. This is neither the first unanimous resolution nor the first bill. Both Shantaram Naik and Shripad Naik, whose party is opposed to Special Status for Jammu and Kashmir, had earlier moved private members’ bills seeking Special Status for Goa on the lines of Nagaland and other North Eastern states. At the heart of the demand is restriction on ownership and transfer of land and restriction on buying of residences. The proposed model is the one existing in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland (Art.371A) and Mizoram (Art.371G). 

The holiday destination has made Goa a haven for a second home leading to a high demand for housing. Migration for opportunities is a global phenomenon, particularly in a developing economy. 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. There is a fear that the villages are losing its character due to huge housing complexes and entry of persons who buy residences in the villages leading to gated communities. The demand for Special Status has its basis in an argument that being small and already overwhelmed, we need to protect our land, which cannot be permitted to be sold to those not of Goan origin. Our demand for Special Status is baring sale of land and houses to those not of Goan origin and for that we want changes in the Constitution of India.

The loss of identity is certainly an emotive issue and our MPs and MLAs are only pandering to that popular sentiment instead of working on the alternatives.

Whether such a demand to is achievable due to a citizen’s fundamental right to reside and settle anywhere in the Country (Art. 19(e)), is an area nobody bothers to think.

 

The provisions of residence and settlement are almost universal. All countries including countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, when it comes to residence and settlement, do not discriminate against its own citizens.  The North Eastern states have imposed restrictions in the interest of ‘scheduled tribes’ as a part of constitutional protection from others taking advantage of the poverty, ignorance and gullibility of Schedule Tribes, thus depriving them of their lands. 

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 tourism state is bound to be seen as a land of opportunities for the rich to have a second house and that is the cost of portraying this tiny state as a holiday destination. People are bound to get attracted to the place which is potrayed as a holiday destination.  Towns like Kullu Manali, Kasauli and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh; Dehradun, Haridwar, Udhamsingh Nagar and Nainital in Uttarakhand witnessed construction boom leading to demographic changes in these areas. Uttarakhand brought in a law barring outsiders from buying over 500 sq.mts. of agricultural land which was thereafter reduced to 250 sq. mts. while in Himachal a non-Himachali cannot buy agricultural land. A division bench of Uttarakhand High Court headed by the Chief Justice struck down the Uttarakhand law.

 The Himachal and the Uttarakhand laws made changes to the agricultural land holdings, but there are no restrictions in buying residences/apartments. The restrictions in Himachal and Uttarakhand were sought to be legally justified to keep in check the ecology of the state. Who says Art. 371-I (as proposed by the MPs, NGOs and the Goa legislature) shall solve our problem? Jammu and Kashmir, despite having a separate Constitution and Art. 370, found it difficult to bring in the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Law in 2004 as the Governor reserved the bill passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for President’s assent, which thereafter was taken to the Supreme Court.   

To my mind the demand to ban sale of land and houses for settlement is almost impossible. It has to be noted that the demand for Special Status requires a change to the Constitution of India to water down the effect of fundamental right to reside, something that is guaranteed to all citizens.  Such a change can only be brought by two thirds majority. At a time when the parties do not have strength to get normal legislative work through, it appears that two thirds of the Parliament coming together to change the Constitution and giving the Goa Legislature a total sweep over transfer of land and its resources, is only a dream sold to us.   

A tourism-depended state like ours shall have to deal with certain social costs not to our liking, but the social cost shall have to be dealt law alone. The Regional Plan must focus on land for housing, commercial and industrial activity on the basis of the requirement of the developing state and change of zone from agricultural land, eco-sensitive zones, slopes and forests to housing and commerce must be banned and violation may penal with imprisonment and that enforced with the seriousness it deserves. If our administration is seen to be serious on that count, protection of the landscape could be assured. Let us be clear about it. There is no demand for Agricultural land that can never be converted. In case our agricultural land is put to productive agricultural use, there should be no objection.

The second home syndrome, which has pushed cost of housing to unrealistic levels and which is seen to overwhelm us, must be dealt by civilised  laws  as laws like imposition of non-occupation tax on vacant residences and strict application of FEMA Regulations shall go a long way in dealing with the problem. New laws within the limits of constitution must be brought in instead of changing the constitution itself.

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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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Previous Comments

Adv. Coutinho is absolutely right about working on the RP and local laws to protect our land, forests, slopes, NDZs etc.. Special status seems a distant dream.. If the Govt. is really serious, including people like Santaram Naik and the Congress, instead of trying to fool peole by moving a private embers Bill, they should sit together and work on the RP. Or is it another ploy to keep goans busy with 'Special Status' for years to come, while merrily exploiting Goa based on the existing plans.

- Fawia Mesquita, Poona | 01 st May 2013 12:35

 

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