Preserving Goa sans special status

By Prabhakar Timble
26 July 2011 17:54 IST


Are the intermittent and discontinuous showers of demand for special status for Goa the new opium sold to the peace-loving people of this tiny State? Or is it an alibi to cover our failures to safeguard the rights of the local populace to local resources including land within the existing framework of laws and the planning mechanism?

Special status is different from ‘special category’ states. As per the 13th Finance Commission, special category states are those with hilly terrain, sparsely populated, facing high transport costs resulting in high delivery cost of public services. The formula of central grants to loans for such states is in the ratio of 80:20 as opposed to 30:70 for others. Bihar and Orissa have made a demand to the centre for special category status in view of poverty, poor health indices, the size of population and the need for massive public works. This demand has not found favor with the centre in view of the enunciated criteria for special category states. The government of Goa has been making similar demands with the Planning Commission and related ministries arguing that the state joined the Indian Union fourteen years after independence and as a result missed the initial two-five year plans. I do not think that Goa can be accorded the special category status in terms of resource sharing from the central kitty. The indicators of per capita income, health, literacy and family planning are the best in the country. Goa is definitely facing public revenue limitations due to the diseconomies of small size but this is not a strong ground for special category status.

Special status for specially placed

We have constitutional guarantees in respect of special status under Articles 370 371, and 371A--371H of the Indian constitution. This is not to be viewed as a passport to separatism or erosion of national unity. Those who consider these provisions as an affront to Indian federalism have not understood the theory of “unequal” federalism wherein some states may enjoy a special status. The historical factors need special treatment for specially placed States. The special status is a strategy in a federal set up to satisfy the demand of national groups for political and cultural autonomy.

These provisions provide for constitution of Boards for Vidarbha, Marathwada, Saurashtra and Kutch. No act of parliament in respect of ownership and transfer of land shall apply to Nagaland unless the Nagaland state assembly decides. The same holds true of religious, social practices of Nagas and the customary law and procedures. Similar clauses are extended to Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. Some of these states have enacted laws in respect of ownership of immovable property in their regions. In Mizoram, transfer of land by sale can take place within the members of the same tribe. Transfer of land holdings to non-tribes is prohibited by law in specified hilly areas to prevent alienation of land. A non-Mizo is given a restricted permit for stay and movement in Mizoram.  As per the Himachal Pradesh land laws, transfer of land to non-agriculturist is barred. Non-agriculturist can only purchase land by the permission of the state government. Further, only permanent residents of Himachal Pradesh can buy land in the state. All others who wish to purchase land for projects are required to seek relaxations under the prevailing laws. Rules have been also relaxed in 2006 to allow non-Himachal residents to purchase land in certain specified areas. These are the examples of the possibilities of our federalism.

Perceptions graduate as realities

Mr. Shantaram Naik, Goa’s MP in the Rajya Sabha spoke his mind to work for introduction of the bill in parliament to amend Article 371(I) to authorize Goa state legislature for regulating ownership and transfer of land and also influx of immigrants. Today, the threat perception of alienation of land from the hands of locals including the community owned lands i.e. ‘communidades’ and the marginalization of the Goans looks to be a reality. It was in our hands to arrest this erosion and assert the purpose for which we gained statehood.

Much of our lands have been siphoned through government sponsored projects and schemes. Look at the working of the Goa Industrial Development Corporation and the disbursement of lands in the name of industrial development. Make the transfer of plots most difficult for the locals and maintain a walk-in window for the non-locals. We were also thinking of similar vehicle to transfer more lands through the health estates and special economic zones. The new bug which will alienate the lands from the locals is the public-private partnership models worked out and implemented without transparency. Goa Housing Board unsuitable and unacceptable design of tenements for locals is another case in point. This Board can teach how to convert beautiful areas into planned dirty and dingy slum-type localities.

Very Special People

Goans are very special people. We will talk of locals but give cent per cent priority to non-locals in terms of employment, award of public contracts, and sale of properties/real estate. We will lament at outsiders taking up our conventional occupations, trades, and enterprises in the service sector. However, we will not venture into such occupations or entrepreneurship.

We will ensure that our government will use the public resources in areas where the market/beneficiaries are prepared to finance. You can understand this from the rise in the number of English medium schools even at the pre-primary level. The latest example is of public grants to English medium schools at primary level. This cannot happen anywhere else in India, anywhere else in the world except maybe, where English is the mother-tongue. We know that the Konkani language is our identity but still we project Marathi also as our cultural identity. On the top of all this, we rationalize and justify the dis-connect with Konkani even at the primary level. We believe in the superstition that English language is the key to future.  In a similar context, Mahatma Gandhi commented in an essay “My own experience” ----“No Japanese feels as helpless as we seem to do.”(Published in the volume “India of my dreams”)

We bask in the glory of around six families democratically prepared to corner 45% of the seats in the Goa Assembly irrespective of the political party. We have made ‘winnability’ a corrupt and immoral process.

In Goa, everything is for sale and nothing is impossible. The exceptions with Bihar may be optimum population, good roads, gifted nature and most accessible politicians like a “tavern” on the roadside.

The question is whether Goa deserves a special status. It is a clear NO from my side. We are laid back people. The connect to Goa and its special identity is not visible beyond internet and face book. It is the mass movement which needs to precede the special status. These are the lessons from Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Telengana. If Goa is our homeland and we have to preserve this creation for generations, the status would not be gifted by New Delhi. We should be prepared to sweat and sacrifice.

If the government is committed to arrest alienation of lands and skewed demography, it is possible to a large extent even within the present framework. There is no need to wait for the luxury of the special status through a constitutional amendment.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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