Gram sabhas across the State have been rejecting housing projects within their jurisdiction.
At a meeting on Sunday, the Bandora gram sabha in a day-long meeting that swung between being volatile and tense opposed a proposed mega project in Farmagudi on comunidade land, claiming that the land has been a grazing field for decades. The gram sabha resolved that the panchayat be directed to approach the court on the issue and to restore the land to its original status. The allegation made by the villagers is that the conversion of the grazing ground was facilitated by politicians and that the panchayat body, acting under pressure from the political leaders, allowed this conversion.
At Sarzora and Chinchinim-Deussua gram sabhas, the villagers opposed a Goa Housing Board colony in Deussua and Dramapur, and here villagers directed the two panchayats to convey their objection to the government authorities. A week earlier the Dramapur gram sabha had rejected the same proposal. The opposition from Sarzora is that the colony proposed will be close to their village limits and cause inconvenience to the people. One of the reasons proffered for the opposition is that the housing project will lead to an influx of people from other regions and cultures and upset the demography of the village. There was a similar fear in Bandora, where it was said that if the mega project does materialise, then the village will lose its identity. The reasoning in all these villages is indicative of the fact that the villagers are for preserving the culture and ethos of the village that they have nurtured over the years.
Across the State there have been and still continue to arise demands to protect the land, the culture and the identity, with calls going out for special status to the State. Though the latter has been taken up with the Centre, there has been no positive response. Power to protect the land, however, lies exclusively with the State and not with the Centre. There have been many suggestions in the past on how Goa can protect its land for the future and for its people, but none of these have ever been explored by the governments that have come to hold power. Successive governments have preferred to ignore the possibility of enacting State laws to save the land, allowing the demand for special status to be kept alive with no resolution to it.
Some years ago, Ramakant Khalap a former Union Law Minister and also a former Law Commission chairperson, had suggested land ceiling laws that could be enacted by the Goa legislature that would help in retaining land for the future generations. In a rather radical statement he had even suggested putting a cap on the amount of agricultural land and real estate that a person can hold, and have the government acquire the surplus land and retain it for posterity, that could later be sold to Goans. What he had suggested was essentially a land bank, and it was an option worth considering. This, however, remained a suggestion, with not even a discussion forthcoming or opposition to it. While demands for saving the land are many, the seriousness to take positive steps towards it have not happened.
In light of the opposition to mega housing projects, not just at the present time but also in the past, the question of loss of identity and a submergence of the local population appears to be a distinct fear among the people. The fear stems from the fact that migration of people into Goa and the emigration of its people abroad have changed the demographics of the State. The suggestions made are easily implementable, as long as there is a political will to do so. Some concerted pressure from the people may make it possible.