Herald: The Destruction of Goa's Agriculture

The Destruction of Goa's Agriculture

11 Feb 2018 06:36am IST
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11 Feb 2018 06:36am IST
Leave a comment

Visitacao B. Monteiro

  

Time and again we hear the people of Goa have neglected agriculture and it is nearly dead in the State. It is easy to blame the people in the same way as it is easy (and many a time rightly) to blame the Government for the many ills plaguing the people. 

The criminal enactment of the Agricultural Tenancy Act 64 (with its Amendments) by the MGP sounded the death knell of Goa's agriculture. The successive Congress & BJP governments which came to power are equally to be blamed for not repealing the Act. 

The aim of the Act was to regulate agriculture in the then Union Territory, now State of Goa. Instead of regulating the same, it only succeeded in deregulating and destroying our agriculture totally. Goan agriculture that since time immemorial was owned and managed by Goan Ganvkaris or Comunidades, a confederation of 222 self-governing private agrarian village republics, very profitably, was destroyed when multiple Government authorities meddled in it. 

According to the UN Charter of Rights of the Indigenous People's lands, the ownership rights over these lands belong to the people and not to the Government. Goan village communities are a unique model of Governance to be replicated in the rest of India. This was the vision of Mahatma Gandhi in his book, India of My Dreams: the self -rule of the village republic. 

These rights were violated when the Mamlatdars were put in charge of bunds and sluice gates together with Tenants Associations, when by law Comunidades cannot have tenants, but only farmers/ cultivators. Tenancy is a relationship. This land is mine, whose tenant am I? Will anyone answer?

The Mamlatdars in connivance with Manxekars (sluice gate operators) and sometimes Tenant's Associations, all of whom had the duty to protect our agriculture, made hay while the sun was shining on them, through pisciculture, which became a more profitable proposition for themselves. Therefore they became, in the Maharashtrian expression quoted in one of the Supreme Court Judgements, by the then Justice Dalveer Bhandari, recently re-elected for the International Court of Justice, Hague: "fences eating the crops" which means the protectors became the destroyers of our agriculture, by removing the sluice gate doors or keeping them open by tying them with ropes (photo illustration), breaching the bunds with gelatins, thus inundating the khazan lands with saline waters. The entire agriculture system built through the centuries was destroyed by the Act in no time.

In the former Ganvkari system the bunds & sluice gates were protected through a regular weekly inspection by a vijia- (tol'luk) who used to repair immediately whatever water ingression was noticed in the bunds. If breaches occurred in heavy monsoon flooding, immediately the Comunidade started repairing the same, and in no time everything was set back in its place. In the Agricultural Tenancy Act the Tenant's association intimates the Mamlatdar who on his turn will send engineers to inspect the same and prepare estimates to be sent for Government's approval. By the time they arrive on the scene and prepare estimates, which takes its own time, the breach goes on increasing in size. So the estimates become ineffective. New estimates are to be submitted for approval. Thus the government is wasting taxpayers' money, umpteen times on repairing the breached bunds. Consequently neither rice nor horticulture can be grown and village wells have become salty. The breaching of bunds and consequent entry of mangrove seeds caused the mangroves to grow in the khazan lands. These mangroves have been declared forests today and they constitute 25 sq. kms. of fertile agricultural land. Are khazan lands forests? Thus agriculture was destroyed by the very Act which was supposed to regulate the same.

The use of gelatins for breaching of bunds & also for catching fish continued unabated till in 2003 a youth died in Narva-Corpi-Acadda area of the Mandovi with gelatin explosion in his hand. But the khazan land inundation for pisciculture continued. Some years back it was in Cortalim. Today it is in Carambolim-Neura cazan lands belt as we read in the press and there will be no end to it.

The supply of cheap ration rice also contributed to the decline of agriculture which became unprofitable due to high cost of manpower. 

The Tenancy Act has made tenancy hereditary. On the death of a tenant who has five heirs there is a problem about who is going to sow the paddy field. Disagreements among the heirs is one of the main factors for land being kept fallow.

The news report in one of the local dailies dated 20/12/2017 speaks of the Chief Minister of Goa on 5th December on World Soil Day function introducing the idea of contract/corporate farming in fallow lands of Goa. Most fallow land was identified by the Nagpur based ICAR - National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning in the coastal khazan land talukas of Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete to the extent of 13,408 hectares where most destruction of agriculture has taken place. Proposing contract/ corporate farming is neither a novel idea nor a solution to the problem. From time immemorial the contract/ corporate farming was done in Goa by the Comunidades. The paddy fields were auctioned every 3 years and consequently there was no land kept fallow. The concept of contract/corporate farming will not work unless the destructive Act is repealed.

Today another new factor with large scale denudation of forest cover is playing with the destruction of agriculture due to construction activity. The result is that the animal biodiversity inhabitating these forests have migrated to whatever forest patches are seen in the villages and they are playing havoc with the village agriculture. O Heraldo dated 8/12/2017 has reported that the Bicholim farmers have rued the destruction of their crops by wild boars, monkeys, porcupines, etc. These complaints have emanated from many villages. Who is to be held responsible for this mess?

Lastly, the migrant factor. Most of the migrants in Goa are farmers in their own states, but in Goa they are hardly employed in agriculture. They are contributing to the decline of Goa's agriculture, since the people accommodating them on rental basis as well as the contractors who bring them for construction and road building activities have failed to provide them with toilet facilities and therefore they are compelled to fulfil their needs in the open. Thus the sewage water let in the paddy fields infects the farmer’s legs forcing them to abandon agriculture. Will the Government awaken to the reality and take the necessary corrective measures to  reset Goan agriculture in its original place? 

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