But, two months later there government has had time to consider and decided that the bill will not be introduced in the Assembly session scheduled next week, but the government will allow the bill to lapse and the new government that takes office after the Assembly elections due in approximately five months will introduce a fresh bill if required.
This statement from the Minister for Legislative Affairs, Mauvin Godinho, came following the Business Advisory Committee meeting and publication of the Bill 2021, in the official gazette last week. The publication of the Bill, just days before the start of a two-day Assembly session at which the government had been billed to reintroduce it amended with suggestions made by the people had brought the focus back on the bill. The explanation given was that this publication in the gazette was for the “general information” of the people and meant to fulfil the requirement of Rule 138 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Goa Legislative Assembly appears contentious. Yet, if it was a matter of procedure, why did the authorities wait until a week before the scheduled session of the Assembly to publish the bill in the gazette?
The Bhumiputra Adhikarini Bill has been the most contentious bill this year. It drew the censure of the opposition parties, as also of civil society that demanded its withdrawal. The Governor has been requested not to give his assent to the Bill. Against this backdrop the publication of the bill, even as a matter of procedure does raise questions on why it is being done with days to go before the next session. After it was placed in public domain it drew around 150 suggestions and objections, so its publication in the official gazette so close to the next session places doubts in people’s minds.
The key words in the minister’s statement on the Bill are ‘rethink’ and ‘if required’. What was perfectly clear to any Goan was that a Bill such as this, which would have far-reaching implications on land ownership and would give migrants illegally living on land a claim on that parcel of land, could not be rushed through in the Assembly without discussion and passed. The government now admits that the subject requires ‘wider consultation’ and so will not reintroduce the Bill. Since the government has had a rethink, this raises the question of how much thought was put into the contents of the Bill by the government before introducing it in the Assembly? With the minister also qualifying that a new Bill will be introduced if required, leads to the question of whether the need for such a Bill was ever discussed by the government.
Clearly, a Bill such as this would require to be well thought out, all its implications listed out and debated, giving little chance for opposition within and outside the House. Allowing it to lapse and letting the new government take a decision on the Bill is perhaps the best solution for the present. The earlier assurance from the Chief Minister to reintroduce the Bill under a new name and with changes in its contents depending on the suggestions of the people was second best. The government was perhaps also aware that reintroducing the Bill would give the opposition a major election issue to whip up passions during the campaign. This settles the Bhumiputra Adhikarini issue for the present, but it can always come up again next year after the polls.