05 Nov 2023  |   06:57am IST

GOA’s MUNDKARS: A prolonged fight for protecting their land & identity

When the State government passed the Goa Bhumiputra Bill in 2021, wherein even migrants residing in the houses for 30 years were to be granted ownership rights, being the original bhumiputras; tenants and mundkars in Goa, fighting for years to get their right under Agriculture Tenancy Act and Mundkar Act, urged the government to look into their grievances first. The existence of Mundkars is completely linked to Goa’s land and the existence of people, who’ve been working on this land and living on it for generations. While this whole issue of Tenancy and the Mundkar Act and its associated problems have been doing the rounds for a very long time, unfortunately all that has happened is just pure lip service in trying to sort out the issues of the tenants. There are people fighting for years to get rights to the properties that their forefathers had. Recently in the Pernem taluka, these issues have surfaced at Mopa. Lot of land has been sold and transferred to persons without taking them into consideration. Denying land to the tenants is the biggest betrayal of the mundkars. The leaders who became what they are today through their participation in the Kul-Mundkar movement, are keeping quiet. In the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA evaluates the issues revolving the mundkars and what’s in store for them
GOA’s MUNDKARS: A prolonged fight for protecting their land & identity

In Goa, the mundkar was a historical land tenancy system prevalent amongst the people during the Portuguese colonial rule. In the 16th century, it allowed the tenant farmers to live and cultivate on the land owned by landlords in exchange for labour and a share of the agricultural produce. 

It played a very significant role in shaping the agrarian economy of Goa, providing opportunities of livelihood for the landless farmers and ensuring a stable work labour for landowners. With time, the mundkar system underwent various legislative developments, with the introduction of protective measures and legal safeguards. 

Substantial changes were brought about by The Goa, Daman and Diu Mundkars (Protection from Eviction) Act of 1975, redefining the concept and ambit of mundkar and providing them with more protection. It aimed to prevent arbitrary evictions of the mundkar and also protect the rights of mundkars. But these sons of the soil continue to face various problems due to litigations against them. There are still over 52,000 cases pending before the various courts, mostly before the taluka Mamlatdar offices.

The State government passed the Goa Bhumiputra Bill in 2021, wherein even migrants residing in the houses for 30 years were to be granted ownership rights, being the original bhumiputras; tenants and mundkars in Goa, fighting for years to get their right under Agriculture Tenancy Act and Mundkar Act. The mundkars however urged the government to look into their grievances first. They said the government must look into the pending tenant, mundkarial cases and direct the Mamlatdars to expeditiously dispose of them.

They demanded that the government implement Agricultural Tenancy Act 1964 and its rule and conduct a survey of tenants as per Agricultural Tenancy rule 1967 and effect the Land and Tiller Act 1976. The tenants have also demanded that the government should scrap the judgments and orders passed by Civil Court, District or its appellate courts in Tenancy cases.

But the general feeling is that the cases are not being disposed of. If that is so, then the question is who is benefitting from this delay? 

Problems faced by the mundkars regarding their land rights have become even more intense since the international airport has come up at Mopa, in Pernem taluka. There are massive development activities happening, where five star hotels and entertainment parks are coming up. The property prices are going through the roof and a lot of land has already been bought there.

The problem here is that the original settlers and people who worked on this particular land, are now reacting with shock and dismay as a lot of that land has been sold off by the original owners, without taking the tenants into confidence. 

But this particular issue is not limited to Pernem alone, though this is a trigger which has actually brought into focus the larger issue of denying people justice by not giving them the tenant status.  What is more shocking is that there are so many leaders who have grown in prominence, based on their so-called representation and fight for the mundkar issue.

Adv Prasad Shahapurkar, legal rights activist, said that the tenant and mundkar issue in Pernem is very important for the entire Goa. 

“Because of the Mopa airport, everyone is looking for a piece of land in our Pernem taluka. People are trying to purchase land by sidelining the tenants, without considering their rights. Their rights are supposed to be protected by the government. No one pays attention to their rights. Only at the time of elections, the candidates speak about taking up their cause and later forget about it,” Adv Shahapurkar said.

Speaking about the importance of this issue of mundkars, Advocate Radharao Gracias, former MLA and political analyst, said, “In Goa, the Tenancy Act came into force after Liberation. In Goa, there were two types of tenanted land - one owned by private landlords and the other one owned 

by the Comunidade, which is a very unique institution.”

“The Comunidade would auction the land for the purpose of cultivation and if at any point of time the person who bid for the land did not want to cultivate or was unable to cultivate, the land would be taken back by the Comunidade and a fresh auction would be held. The new tenant who wanted to cultivate the land, would get it. That was the concept which was working very fairly well,” Adv Gracias said.

“Then the Liberation happened and the MG Party arrived at the scene. The MGP was against the upper class, the landed gentry, which mainly comprised the Kshatriyas or the Saraswats in North Goa, or the Catholics in South Goa. MGP was hostile towards their interests. So when they brought in Tenancy Act legislation, I feel that they were more concerned with teaching these people a lesson rather than doing a service to the tenants,” the former MLA said.

“This legislation is quite defective. They did not separate the private landlords from the Comunidade land. That is what ought to have been done then. The Comunidade lands were narrow strips of plots given to small cultivators. Now, in the last 40 years these cultivators and their following generations have got a plot. So in most places, not many cultivate the land. It is just lying fallow. Now, if the Comunidade lands were left out of the purview of the Tenancy Act, it would have meant that the Comunidade could continue with land holdings and give it to whoever it wanted for cultivation,” he said.

“If you don’t cultivate land, it goes back. This was an ideal system, which has been destroyed by the Agricultural Tenancy Act. As far as private landlords are concerned, I feel there should have been some provision in the law where some land could have gone to them and some to the tenants, to be used in whichever way they wanted. Now what is happening is, the moment a tenant acquires the land, he has to pay only Rs 40 per sq mt, even to this date. The Goa Land Use Act prohibits you to use that land for any other purpose apart from agriculture. Today, the tenants have large land holdings, but they are least bothered about farming,” Adv Gracias said.

There are some lands that are Morod lands that are virtually uncultivable, on the hill side. 

“These could have been used for other purposes. Now all these problems involving big hotels and builders lie here. If a tenanted land is purchased by any builder or developer he cannot develop it because law prohibits it. Then to circumvent the law, they contact the tenants and offer them a hefty amount for their land. He gets 100 or even 1,000 times more than the original price, otherwise the land would remain unused. So, the entire purpose of the law is defeated,” he said. 

“Then what happens, if the tenants name is there in Form I & XIV, a suit is filed or negative declaration is sought and the Mamlatdar holds that he’s not a tenant. This is happening with the connivance of the tenants, the builders and landlords because everybody benefits. So something is wrong with the system itself. You can’t blame builders, landlords or tenants. Everybody wants money and this is the only way to get it,” Adv Gracias pointed out.

He added that there may be some who are not shown as tenants. There may be disputes in the court and one can’t do anything about it. Disputes continue in court, that is another issue. But if a tenant has chosen not to get his name declared as tenant or has not chosen for a declaration under Tenancy Act, then no law should come to his rescue.

“You are supposed to be aware of your rights and fight for them. The Tenancy Act came in 1975 (Fifth Amendment). So all these years if you have been sleeping over your rights, you can’t come and fight. You have to go and exercise your rights. So the problem with Pernem is, all these years they were on the top because they controlled the government. In Pernem people were anti-Goan. They supported MGP which was pro-merger,” he said. 

“Whatever be the situation, Pernem people always supported the Goa Government whenever it came up with plans to destroy Salcete. This is the reality. Nobody is stopping them from fighting for their rights. If they want my legal help, I’ll come and fight for them. Who’s denying the rights to them? But, you have to assert your rights. What is happening is in most cases most tenants accept money and then they want to fight for their rights,” Adv Gracias alleged.

Adv Prasad Shahapurkar however differed from Adv Gracias and said that one can’t pass a blanket judgment on everybody saying tenants accept money.

“In Tiracol, people have shown that if our tenancy rights have to be protected, then we can get the entire village involved. In context to the problems caused by the development happening in Pernem due to Mopa airport, my respectful submission is that please don’t judge everything under one lens that tenants want to give up their land just for the sake of money. The reality is totally different,” Adv Shahapurkar said.

“There are genuine people who want to cultivate their land, who want to protect their land for the next generation. Now people are getting aware in every nook and corner of the villages that we have to protect our land, otherwise we will be nowhere,” he said.

Govind Shirodkar, GAKUVED founder member said, “There are 55,000 cases pending in the courts of mamlatdars. I am from the tribal community. We are the original settlers of the State and original owners of the land. Now you see, if you go to Canacona or Sanguem, our land is encroached by the Forest Department. There are so many cases related to the Bahujan Samaj. We owned hectares of land once upon a time. But what is our status now? There are so many cases that are being fought by the entire community. On October 8, 1976, in the Sawaikar case, the judgment came in favour of the mundkars. They were declared as tenants and that was declared as Tillers Day,” he said. 

“Ravi Naik at that time was leading the Kul-Mundkar movement and came to power. Which political party has till date assured that they will settle at least 1000 cases of mundkars in their tenure? The Chief Minister assured in 2021 that he will dispose of cases soon and again he assured MLA Jit Arolkar that he will appoint special mamlatdars for fast-tracking the court cases. I call upon the NGOs to handle this issue of Kul Mundkar, to take up this cause before the Government,” he said. 

It is in this backdrop, the Bhoma agitation is going on against the proposed highway expansion. 

Sanjay Naik, activist from Bhoma fighting against the highway expansion, said, “The issue of road widening came before us when Churchill Alemao held a meeting and a vehicle with speakers went around the village calling out to the landlords to attend the meeting. It struck us then and now also that the National Highway is not their target.”

“Most of the houses that are affected in Bhoma are of tenants living on the landlords’ land. Without asking the residents and tenants who have been here for 200 years, the acquisition happened. This is nothing but a method to hand over land from tenants to landlords. Our villages were backward and we never imagined that the landlords got more money in the form of our rents than the value of the lands,” he said. 

“There had to be some discussion with the people before the lands were notified. The government is turning a blind eye. If we have to protect Goan land, we will have to have a regional party which matches our aspirations to protect Goa,” he said.

When asked if this was a backdoor attempt to grab land, Adv Gracias said, “There have been protests in Chandor, Cansaulim and other coastal villages in Salcete against the railway double tracking project. But no one from Bhoma went there to support the villagers against land the government attempted to take away. Now a similar situation has arisen in Bhoma, but no one from Cansaulim has gone to Bhoma to show their support. This is the same phenomenon across the State.”

“Let us not confuse the Mundkar Act and Land Acquisition Act. See, there is a road going through and this is not something unique. Everywhere our own lands have been acquired for roads, everywhere sometimes houses are demolished. I remember some years ago in Chinchinim, houses were demolished for widening the highway. So, whenever the government requires land for a public purpose, it does not matter who owns the land. It does not matter whether there is a tenant or a mundkar, because there is a mechanism which decides that once a land is acquired, it decides on the compensation,” Adv Gracias said.

“If there is a road and if it has to be widened, it can only be widened by the sides. Or, you can make a bypass. These are the two alternatives - either a bypass or widen it. Now in the Bhoma issue, I am not aware of what is happening. But I’m just giving you the general idea of how things happen. Now what happens, the government is not interested in the ownership of the land. They are supposed to evaluate the land and fix a price, which is deposited with the Land Acquisition Officer (LAO), who could be the Deputy Collector,” he said.

“The people can move to court if they are not happy with the compensation awarded to them. The file goes to the District Court, which through a judicial process, decides whether the money has to be paid or not and how much. The entitlement is decided by the court, not by the government,” he said.

Adv Prasad Shahapurkar said that due to improper keeping of land records and general lack of awareness, the mundkars are losing their land rights. 

“This is a problem in Mopa. The generation that was pro-merger has gone. This is the next generation. But all we say is that the government mechanism has to be proactive to dispose of cases. The concept of money for land is making people give up their rights,” he said. 

“Even after knowing that the tenancy rights protect their interests, there is still a lot of money pressure due to the strong real estate lobbies. The time has come to think of it and to protect our land with the Mundkar Tenancy Act. Legislation has to be brought in along with the ear to the ground and apply the laws, train the mamlatdars, empower the government mechanism to resolve the tenancy cases,” he said.

Adv Gracias said that if the MLAs are not protecting the rights, then people should change them. “The people have not been proactive. The value of land has increased so much that everyone is trying to make money out of it,” he alleged.

“There is a need to get legislation to prevent the sale of land to outsiders. But when there are MLAs who are builders, then how can we expect it from them? Mundkar Act and Tenancy act are not the same. Tenancy is for cultivating and producing food. Today, I don’t think the BJP or Congress can do it. I feel the people have to come together on a regional platform,” he said.

Govind Shirodkar said that there is no desire to give land to the Kul and Mundkars. Government bought land and transferred it.

“We niz Goenkar are fighting for the rights of the people. But what the government did is they brought the Bhumiputra bill to give land rights to migrants. No Panchayat cares for the locals. They care for migrants. We have and are destroying ourselves. Our own people are cheating us and we can’t deny that. Today there is a need to awaken the elected representatives and make them answer whether they will include the land rights issue in the manifesto for time bound implementation. We have huge tracts of land under paddy and until we don’t shake the government from the core, we will have to suffer,” he said. 

It is ironic in the sense that we have the Tenancy Act and we have the Mundkar Act. These enabling Acts are very much within us and in our system, but despite this, so many people are suffering. So many people who feel they are being denied their genuine land rights and their possessions. This is shameful for the State of Goa because after so many years, the least that we should expect is that people should be given the basic rights over land and identity.

This is something that we people are fighting for again and again. At the same time, what is also very surprising and shocking is that this issue of Mundkar Rights is not something that has suddenly sparked. It has become very acute because of these large scale developments that are happening all across the State. That is why this issue is coming up now.

The shocking part here is that, why should any government, irrespective of which party rules, allow these things to linger for years, as if the problem will go away on its own? We now know that the problem is going nowhere because people are willing to fight for their rights and they are at your door and knocking. 

So, leaving the problem and thinking that it’s a nightmare which will go away in the morning, is also a fallacy. But the point here is that until and unless these problems become issues on which elections are actually fought, it is very unlikely that this will not be solved. And as everybody mentioned, when you come to vote when the bank has changed, then the people’s bank, that originally was your bank, becomes completely defunct. This is the core problem that needs to be sorted out, because unless that is done and unless the real bank is revived, these situations aren’t going to be solved.

You know, in the near future the hope will shrink and it’ll go on shrinking, unless the people’s bank is revived. This is up to the people to do it. It won’t happen from outside. So the fight has to go on till the government realises its prime responsibilities towards people of Goa. The government being in a perpetual state of slumber, more noise should be created in a unified manner by everyone.


Idhar Udhar