26 Jun 2016  |   06:59am IST

This is why the Parsekar govt was hiding the Sandeep Jacques fact finding report on Tiracol

From December 5, 2015 to the end of June 2016, the Laxmikant Parsekar government has been sitting on the fact finding report of the Sandeep Jacques committee, appointed by it, to conclude if the allegations of tenanted agricultural land fraudulently bought by Leading Hotels, and converted for non-agricultural purposes is correct or not. In an affidavit to the High Court currently on the verge of deciding a Writ Petition on the subject moved by the Saint Anthony’s Tenants and Mundkar’s Association (SATMA), the government of Goa promised to uphold the rule of law.

The government went on an overdrive to prevent this report from being disclosed, clutching on a fragile window of opportunity offered by the inquiry officer that a final call on whether the land was tenanted or not could not be taken. It then sent the report to the Advocate General for opinion post which the report seems to have fallen into the Bermuda Triangle, the area where hundreds of ships purportedly vanish. The Sandeep Jacques report was heading the same way, with RTI applications filed to get the report being stalled left, right and centre, on the pretext that the government had not accepted the report, till one of the RTI applications was finally accepted.

We call upon the Chief Minister to do what he has promised. He should make the report public. In any case Herald has done it now.

And the first step towards upholding the rule of law is to be transparent in handling an issue as sensitive as what Herald feels, is the suspiciously fraudulent takeover of tenanted land through manipulative negative declarations. This is the land on which the multi-crore golf course and villa project is taking place, the land on which villagers have lived for generations, the land of the entire village which has been bought in a manner that has been seriously challenged.

It is clear that while the report did not nail the final argument that all the land taken over by Leading Hotels (thorough purchase), was tenanted, there is very little left, but to conclude that it was just that, if the spirit of the report is read and understood in its entirety.

Look at the relevant portions of the Sandeep Jaques Inquiry report which do just that:

Page 124 para (ii)

“As brought out in the Case Findings in the previous chapter, it is seen that an area of 12,18,000 sq. mts. has been sold by the ‘Colopos’ or Khalaps to M/s Leading Hotel Pvt. Ltd. The first Deed of Sale took place in November 2007. It has thereafter been seen that ‘Negative Declaration’ Orders have been obtained from the Civil Court and from the Mamlatdar in 134 cases (i.e. 60 cases by orders of the Mamlatdar & 74 cases by orders of the Civil Court) for an area of about 7,87,227 sq mts...”

Page 125 Para (iii)

“It is just incomprehensible to believe that it is a mere co-incidence that, only after the property in question was sold by the ‘Colopos’ or Khalaps to M/s Leading Hotel Pvt. Ltd. in parts from the year November 2007 onwards, that some of the ‘persons who were earlier claiming to be tenants or even declared so have suddenly realised that the entries in the record of rights were erroneous’. One can understand one or two cases but not the whole village and that too not almost at the same time. There is definitely something more than what meets the eye.”

This observation is crucial. Those who were initially claiming to be tenants of the land suddenly wanted to file negative declarations stating that their record as tenants were erroneous and therefore filed negative declarations ie to declare that they were not really tenants, to enable Leading Hotels to effect the purchase of their lands  with the veneer of legality. The SATMA petition hinges around this and states that the negative declarations were false and all of Tiracol’s land is tenanted and illegally sold to Leading Hotels, since tenanted land cannot be sold legally.

And this is exactly what the government of Goa wanted to hide from public domain because this would weaken the position of Leading Hotels. The inquiry report challenges the very basis of the manner in which Leading Hotels have bought land in Tiracol village for their Golf course and villa project. The inquiry officer, appointed by the government stopped short of stating that the Tiracol land purchases came under the purview of the Tenancy Act which bars sale of tenanted land, but presented an elaborate summary various judgments of the High Court of Bombay at Goa on the issue  Some of them are notable:

(i) “The definition of tenant is very wide and any person lawfully cultivating any land belonging to another person on or after July 1st 1962 but before the commencement of the Tenancy Act shall be deemed to be tenant provided under conditions in Section 4 are satisfied. Therefore any person lawfully cultivating the land of another person becomes a tenant irrespective of the fact whether there was any lease executed in favour of such person or not.

(ii) There cannot be a termination of tenancy or surrender of tenancy except in accordance with Section 9, 10, 11 of the Tenancy Act. No tenant of any land shall be terminated or evicted save as provided under the Tenancy Act.

(iii) In case of failure of the tenant to purchase land in accordance with section 18A read with Section 18C, the land does not revert to the landlord and it has to be resumed by the State for allotment to various persons named in Section 2 of Section 18K of the Tenancy Act.

These judgments should be read with a clear conclusion of the Inquiry Officer Sandeep Jacques that the land on which the Tiracol Golf Course and Villa project is taking shape in, was indeed agricultural and that there is indisputable evidence of cultivation. And if it's agricultural and orchard land, the likelihood of its being tenanted is extremely high.

Page 123 para (iii) of the Sandeep Jaques Fact Finding report reads: “Therefore, one can reasonably observe that the old records maintained indicated entries of certain types of crops grown in the area during a particular period and the survey of which was carried out by the Talathis under the supervision of the Office of the Mamlatdar. Further the entries (crop) in the First Survey Report (Form No. III) evidently points out that there were indeed crops grown in parts of that area like Bhaat, Cashew, Nachane, Udit & Kudit etc. in the past.

Para (iv) states, “There is also evidence of other agricultural activity taking place on the said land in the past and continues even as of now. wherein consequent to the growing of the cashew trees, cashew apples are being picked  and juice being extracted thereof by the very same people for ’distillation of liquor.. This activity is also being duly supported by the 'crop compensation' paid to some of the farmers”.

The Goa government when it decides to uphold the Rule of Law will be well advised to read the Goa Land Use (Regulation) Act 1991, which its own Legislature had enacted. Section 2 of the said act, is significantly quoted in detail by Sandeep Jacques. “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Town and Country Planning Act (1974) or in any plan or scheme there under or the Goa Land Revenue Code, no land which is vested in a tenant under the Provisions of the Tenancy Act , SHALL BE USED OR ALLOWED TO BE USED for any other purpose other than agriculture.

The Jacques committee has recommended that this be finally closed with a judicial inquiry to finally determine if the land on which the grandiose Golf Course and Villa project of Leading Hotels is coming up, is tenanted. But the government’s intentions don’t seem to be anywhere near proceeding in this direction, borne out by the manner in which utmost secrecy has been maintained about this report.

This is in marked contrast with the enthusiasm the government had shown by telling the High Court that the Jacques Inquiry Committee report would help the High Court to decide on issues raised in the main writ petition. When it realised that the report would raise serious questions on the manner in which Leading Hotels “bought” land in Tiracol, it shied away from placing the report in court. This has now been initiated by the petitioners, after the government failed to make good its promise to the Court under oath.

If the government has any credibility left, even if it’s as big as a needle in a haystack, it should hold a judicial inquiry based on the Jacques Inquiry report and present all findings in the High Court.

Clearly Sandeep Jacques has proven to be a good upright officer. We are not sure if the Leading Hotels friendly Goa government quite likes his efficiency.