Goa: Mobilising the land resource

By Prabhakar Timble
20 June 2013 06:01 IST

Land is emerging as the great Goan weakness and a threat to demographic identity. This is largely due to six factors. Firstly, though gifted in terms of natural environment the quantity of land available for meeting the growing demands of development, infrastructure and housing is extremely limited. Perhaps, Goa is the smallest State of the Indian Union in terms of land area. Secondly, development has brought in immigration finally concluding in permanent settlements. Thirdly, Goa is looked at as a land of opportunity for investments in real estate for high gains in the short-term and supernormal accretions in the long-term. Fourthly, the Brand Goa mix of natural beauty, social harmony and zest for life coupled with accessibility is luring the rest of India and even foreigners to own lands. Fifthly, the disregard and neglect of agriculture and allied economic activity either because of lack of perceptible returns or other reasons has resulted in the transfer of ownership into non-agricultural hands. Sixthly, ancestral land is viewed as commerce by overseas Goans and those who have migrated from villages to other parts of the country.  For most of them it is an inherited “liability” which turns out to be an asset only if converted into white and black currency.  Government lands and those mobilised through land acquisition have also gone to outside capitalist for genuine projects as well as avoidable and some even questionable ones.

It is not that Goa has not gained. Land is an inevitable resource for infrastructure and industrial growth. The same thing holds true about labour and manpower. There can be no transformation without gains and losses. We have now realised that the growth has been lopsided in terms of regions. We are also recognising now that the growth has been at the cost of interests of the local population and environment. No other State can provide learning to Goa as the constraints that Goa faces are completely different as compared to other States.  The small size of our territory and the meagre numbers in terms of language and culture calls for a different treatment in terms of development outcomes if Goa’s priority is also to maintain its distinct identity.

Special status

The demand for special status for Goa as provided under Article 371 of the Constitution to empower the state legislature to make special laws in respect of ownership, transfer and sale of land and prohibit sale to citizens of India may not even reach the first stage of admission and consideration at the level of the central government. This is because Goa does not confirm to the minimum eligibility test of the hilly tribal dominated states in the north-east. An invocation of Article 371 disturbs the present equilibrium of the State of Goa with the Union and also with the other States comprising the Indian Union. A memorandum to the Prime Minister raising a demand of this nature is a cry in wasteland. Special status requires an amendment to the Indian Constitution. This can happen only if the major national parties take it up as a significant component of their agenda. No amount of resolutions, even unanimous from the forty legislators can act even as icebreakers on the issue. The need is to debate, negotiate and convince the major political parties and not just the party in power at the Centre.

To make out a case for special status is quite different from making a demand for an economic or financial package. For the dialogue to commence we need special and unique conditions of the nature prevailing in the tribal communities of the hills. The loss and threat of extinction of distinct socio-cultural communities and the likelihood test of exploitation by the entry of outsiders needs to be visibly seen as a reality. The Goan community registers a global presence and does not exhibit any indicators for a special protection under Article 371 of the Constitution. 

Acquisitions & Conversions

Land acquisitions by the government have always meant that those who have been coerced to part with their lands have heavily paid for the affluence of the rest. Forests, agricultural lands, grazing grounds and horticulture gardens have subsidized industrial estates, business parks, mining and Greenfield airports. This means that farmers, growers, agricultural labourers and tribals have lost to benefit the educated elite. Land acquisitions have meant impoverishment to the existing owners and the gateway to wealth for the new owners. Any further land acquisitions in Goa, including for the airport at Mopa should arrest this trend. This is within the ambit of the state government. It should not happen that people who are dispossessed of their lands become landless because the price thrown at them does not provide the ability to own land at other locations.

We believe in competitive markets and liberal economic policies for our industry and service sector to stand to global competition. However, when it comes to the land market, we summon the government to provide lands at rock bottom prices to be determined by the public authority. According to us, food subsidy and subsidized public distribution system is bad economics and appeasement politics.  It is surprising that we do not use the same logic to land pricing. The state government would be well within its powers to provide the desired “special” status to land losers in respect of public projects. There are many ways in which a fair deal with interest in future profits can be provided to these people.

There is talk about bringing in law to prohibit sale of agricultural land in Goa. What is needed is strict vigilance on conversion of these lands as opposed to ban on sale. If the transfer of land in new hands results in utilisation of the idle lands under agriculture, it should be welcomed. The issue in Goa is of lands lying fallow, unutilised and underutilised. Even forest lands need to be exploited if they are to be maintained as forests.  Without creating attractive opportunities for agriculture and horticulture, the ban on sale would be observed more by disobedience through available legal loopholes. Hence, the screws need to be tightened at the stage of conversion if the objective is to retain agricultural lands.

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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