It’s 9. 20pm and we randomly stop to talk to 75-year old Dumacin Oliviera on the islands of Vanxim. Her reply is to go quickly as there were just five minutes before the ferry departs for Divar Island. The life of these 300 odd people and 35 families at Vanxim Island revolves around the ferry boat. The only island on an island, Vanxim, is a water body that is the cynosure of every builder and developer across the world.
Vanxim Island is located in the Mandovi River inside the Divar Island and is reachable from Goa’s mainland only after taking a ferry to Divar, then travelling around 5 kms and then taking another ferry to Vanxim. Basically Divar and Vanxim are inaccessible by a bridge or road.
“Vanxim has nothing but just two shops, one chapel, one church and a temple and around 300 odd people living on the island. Vanxim doesn’t have a school, hospital, ambulance or even a police station, bank, ATM or anything else. All these facilities are at Malar-Divar. “Our kids go to learn music and go to school at Divar and the ferry is our life line for supplies, grain and just about everything. Our life revolves around ferry timings and calling a special ferry if we need it,” explains Marianne Fernandes, who we struck a conversation with about Vanxim.
Marianne says all that Vanxim has is the calm, silence and peace of mind. But her face changes colour when we talk of Ozone buying their land and planning to develop resorts, spas, golf courses and swimming pools. Marianne, like all those on the island feel threatened since February 11, 2006 and keep fingers crossed that no such mega structures destroy the mangroves and fields of Vanxim Islands. Vanxim Island does not forget that it’s a decade since the sale of the Church land of by Archbishop Rev Fr Fillipe Neri Ferrao, the head of the patriarch of the East Indies of the Catholic Church in Goa.
The role of the Church, Mahendra Gaunkar, MLA Pandurang Madkaikar & then PWD minister Churchill Alemao in bringing Ozone group to Vanxim
n1992: Archdiocese of Goa, Daman and Diu claims that a Vanxim Tenants Association had given the church NOC to sell part of Vanxim lands since the bunds were breached and the fields couldn’t be cultivated.
n1995: Tenants Association of Vanxim residing on the island moved an application for regularizing and purchasing of their land at Rs 6 per square meter. All residents on the island are tenants on the property owned by the Archdiocese of Goa, Daman and Diu that inherited the property from the Santa Monica of Old Goa Convent which is believed to have abandoned the land during the plague, centuries ago. Mamlatdar passed an order for sale of land for Rs 35 paise per sq meter. Archdiocese asked to dismiss petition of the so-called tenants and revert it to the Church.
n15/06 and 26/02/96 : Firms are believed to have approached the Archdiocese to purchase the land at a price of Rs 6 per sq. meter.
n9/4/1999: An Agreement of sale was executed between Bishop Raul Gonsalves and Mahendra Gaunekar.
n15 July 2005: First joint development agreement signed: Mahendra Gaunekar and Ozone Group led by Rajeev Choudhary sign the first Joint Development Agreement on developing Vanxim island. Rs 7 crores paid for acquiring Vanxim islands. Agreement estimated at Rs 30,000 crores.
n11/02/06: Subsequently a Deed of Sale for an area 1,85,125 sq. mts (45.76 acres) Rs. 37,02,500 and a Deed of Transfer and Assignment of Rights, for an area admeasuring of 3,00,275 sq. mts (74.16 acres) for Rs. 18,01,650 were registered before the Sub-Registrar of Panjim.
n11th August 2009 : A joint development agreement signed and executed for developing Vanxim islands at Rs 38 crores. Additional amounts given to Mahendra Gaunekar. Agreement figures increased compared to July 2005 agreement.
n4th Nov to 10th Nov 2009: Notices under Agricultural Tenancy Act were sought by the Church and sent across Mahendra Gaunekar from Archdiocese office by Procurator Fr Victor Rodrigues.
n16th May 2010: MLA Madkaikar asks villagers to support the Ozone group: Pandurang Madkaikar, MLA of Cumbharjua and Vanxim along with Mahendra Gaunekar came to the island to meet the villagers to convince then to sell their lands and accept the Ozone Group plans for hotels and allied facilities.
nJune 2010: Gaunekar and group challenge orders of the mamlatdar for transfer of lands to tenants. Ask for condonation of delay to challenge orders despite the fact that challenge is 15 years later. Deputy Collector accepts challenge and reverses the order to give lands to tenants. Order can be challenged in administrative tribunal and not in Deputy Collector’s court.
nJuly 2010: Churchill attempts to convince locals not to oppose the Ozone group: PWD Minister Churchill Alemao also visits Vanxim to convince tenants to not oppose hotel project. Bal Rath to children withdrawn to harass Vanxim villagers.
nAugust 2010: Bishop admits that his decision was morally wrong though legally correct: Bishop meets Maggie Silveira and three locals, says what he did was legally correct but morally wrong. He refuses to discuss anything further. Archbishop says land sold to gather funds to repair Santa monica Chapel at Old Goa. Chapel in possession of ASI. No repairs carried out till date. Possession of chapel sub-judice and in litigation.
nNovember 2015: IPB’s Draconian law allowed development of Vanxim by Ozone Group: Investment Promotion Board under a draconian law surpass eco sensitive rules, CRZ guidelines, Regional plan zones and panchayat act and allow development of Vanxim islands by Ozone.
nFebruary 02, 2016: CBI refuses to intervene: CBI ACB, Ashok Kumar rejects Vanxim locals demand to look into Vanxim’s Santa Monica land sale by Bishop Neri. CBI says investigation not possible as Vanxim not in their jurisdiction.