The contours of Goenkarpon, a word which has never found so much resonance as it does now, will be shaped around something which is synonymous and with something that demarcates identity and local-ness, land.
Everything from history, culture, sense of pride revolves around the control of land and if there is one thing that remains constant in every struggle Goa has had, it is land. Every single movement – whether restricted to villages against mega housing projects or beer factories (like the Vani Agro beer and alcohol project in Amdai, Sanguem) or mammoth state projects like the Mopa airport have had land as a core issue. The DNA of the ongoing and hopefully conclusive battle with Leading Hotels waged by villagers of Tiracol, is also about the how the tenanted land was bought in a manner which was allegedly unfair and not according to law.
Many of those who pontificate on the issue of land do not always take into account that this has nuances. At one level the loss of land had got to do with large tracts of public land/comunidade land being converted to zones which allow construction and development. At another level a large amount of land is taken away from Goans for government projects, at times near forcibly and then there is a clear, simple case of Goans selling out, with huge windfall staring at them in the face. The sale of ancestral land and the ensuing wealth leads to a change in the manner of living, with many Goans moving into bigger towns and smaller apartments.
But the biggest rape of the Goa’s land has been perpetrated by those who have cruelly and cleverly taken advantage of the suspended Regional Plan and managed to get construction projects passed by using several loopholes. The Investment Promotion Board has become a prime instrument for many parties to get projects cleared, with the assumption that the Town and Country Planning Department and the Pollution Control Board have no authority to block them.
If satellite images of Goa, tracked over the last five years, are compared year to year, the sheer mushrooming of building, estates and projects in absolute no go areas is clearly visible. Is this what a suspended Regional Plan was meant to do?
What has been less recorded is the sheer loot of Goa’s land by the real estate mafia simply grabbing orchard land, developing it an then selling them off to unsuspecting buyers, who do not do due diligence. At times the mafia uses the orchard land to build without any conversion, with the authorities looking the other way. This has been confirmed from some of the highest level of sources in government.
Land reform in Goa has to take on a whole new meaning. While Goa has dealt with mining “loot” and other forms of corruption, it is land on which the maximum amount of black money has been made. Land reform has to begin by minute mapping of every piece of land digitally and track the movement of that land. In short, every morsel of land in Goa should be under biometric type of scanning.
This can be done only through digitisation of the highest order where there is a unique identity number of each land survey (like an aadhar number). The name of every seller and buyer, the status of the land, the zoning patterns and changes and the other activity on that land should be captured against that number. It is only then that all correspondence and paper work pertaining to that land, including permissions for conversion will be tracked under that same i.d. There has been large scale corruption over land – and this cannot be done without the active connivance of politicians and the political class. A detailed investigation must include this aspect.
Therefore this debate and this investigation must go beyond projects cleared by the Investment Promotion Board. In relative terms, this will be a blip in the ocean of irregularities. A zero tolerance to corruption in land use is a long term project, but done systematically, not a single piece of land can escape scrutiny. The role of BDOs, mamlatdars, panchas and sarpanchas, the MLAs and then ministers who are benefiting from the land by giving illegal permissions, will be exposed.
Part actions of officials and ministers of the TCP in allegedly facilitating this has to be investigated too.
It’s clear that this war against land mafiosi has to be fought with two weapons. One which investigates, highlights and brings to book the rampant misuse and corruption over Goa’s land and the other institutionalises, by new laws a ring like protection around Goa’s land
The new plan, mooted by the TCP department to transfer development rights to those who buy credits or incentives for land in CRZ, heritage and other sensitive areas, in lieu of not doing any ‘development ‘ in those areas, but in other designated areas, is a step in the right direction.
In layman’s terms, a builder will have to respect no go areas. But if he wants to expand in areas where growth will be allowed, he can actually locate a sensitive or no go area or even old houses and pay a calculated sum to that land owner in lieu of expanding his project in another designated growth area. In one shot, the need to bribe any official or minister goes. Most importantly, traditional owners of land, especially ancestral land in heritage areas, do not need to sell their properties or land for money but will actually get paid by ‘developers’ to get rights to develop elsewhere.
What assumes significance here is that if this move fructifies into actual law, there will be a freeze on touching no go areas.
The time to do all this is now. The academic debate over what identity, culture and of course Goenkarpon, is just that, a studio, balcao or tavern dialogue. The reality is that the most fundamental and visible asset that grounds one to his or her land, is land itself. And while ‘development’ will; have to go on, protecting what need to be protected has to be non-negotiable.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar will do well to look at every proposal accepted and cleared by the IPB, but he will do much better by declaring a war on the land mafiosi and ensuring the unbridled loot and plundering of Goa’s land, with the active connivance of powerful and political stake holders, is reigned in with visible action.