It seeks special status for State to regulate ownership of land

After a two-hour-long debate, the Goa Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Monday seeking special status for the State, aimed at “regulating ownership and transfer of land” to protect Goa’s identity.

Citizens’ groups had been putting pressure on the government for long on the issue. Among the groups, there was the Goa Movement for Special Status led by the late Matanhy Saldanha and the Movement for Special Status for Goa (MSSG) backed by his wife and Minister for Forests and Environment Alina Saldanha.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who moved the resolution, said he was not asking for independent status for Goa. The purpose of the resolution was to protect land rights, he said and clarified that it was not to seek “any economic package for the State”.

“We do not want any financial package under Article 371. We want powers to regulate our own scarce land since land mafias from all over are buying it up mercilessly. We have limited land left for our own people and their development,” he said.

Goa is seeking special status on the lines of that given to Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Mizoram. Of the total 3,702 sq km of land, the tiny coastal State is left with hardly 362 sq km for development, the Chief Minister said.

According to him, this amounts to only seven per cent as 40 per cent is agricultural land, 38 per cent is forest, six per cent falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone and 1.8 per cent is for roads and other infrastructure.

Apart from land mafias in collusion with political forces who have been grabbing Goa’s scarce land, the Chief Minister pointed out that even government establishments like the Border Security Force had been eyeing land in Goa with no justification. Unable to counter sustained pressure from the politician-land mafia nexus, Goans had started selling their ancestral land in the last 10 years, he said.

Mr. Parrikar pointed out that over the years, land belonging to non-resident Goans was also acquired under the pretext of government projects or simply by forging documents.

Referring to the bogey of migrants raised in some quarters, the Chief Minister dismissed the theory of migrant labour capturing more land than the land mafia. He warned that Goa would have to import manpower in the next 10 years because there would be fewer people to look after the aged with life expectancy in the State going up to 78 to 80 years.

With falling birth rate, Mr. Parrikar said Goa would become like some European countries that rely on others for manpower. He stated that the Bharatiya Janata Party would support the resolution whether it comes to power at the Centre or not.

An all-party delegation would proceed to Delhi next month to meet the Union government and present Goa’s case, he said.

The resolution, urging the Centre for “special status to Goa under Article 371 of the Constitution of India or any other provision for regulating ownership and transfer of land and conservation of land”, was passed after concerns were expressed about the current situation by members cutting across party lines. The MLAs sought the Centre’s support for protecting Goa’s identity. The Chief Minister said that the State must have rights over land transfer as it could not afford a change in its demographic status.

Supporting the resolution, Leader of the Opposition Pratapsingh Rane said the resolution should not be for political purposes.

The criterion for the special status had to be spelt out clearly, he said.

Speaker Rajendra Arlekar appealed to all the MLAs to introspect on why the time had come to ask for such protection under Article 371, while stating that “all of us are responsible for this.”

Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza said the increasing greed of Goans had led to this situation. Recalling the first private resolution he had moved when in Opposition, on the late Matanhy Saldanha’s insistence, Mr. D’Souza said only fierce agitation could get the demand met.

Congress MLA Mauvin Godinho demanded that all 40 MLAs hold an agitation in Delhi.

Minister for Forests and Environment Alina Saldanha said Goa had reached a saturation point where freezing of land was the only solution. She said villages were not in a position to withstand the pressure of increasing mega projects.

Similar resolution

In August 2008, a similar resolution was passed by the Goa Assembly. In July 2009, Shantaram Naik, MP, moved a similar resolution in the Rajya Sabha.