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Mainstream, VOL LV No 6 New Delhi January 28, 2017

On Special Status for Goa

Tuesday 31 January 2017, by Eduardo Faleiro


Our Chief Minister stated recently that it is not possible to get Special Status for Goa. The special status was demanded by a resolution of the Goa Legislative Assembly moved by the then Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, and in a memorandum submitted under the leadership of Shri Parrikar to the former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in 2013. Special status was also promised by the BJP at the time of the last Assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections. Our Chief Minister was then a Minister. When and how did he come to know that the grant of special status was not possible? Did Shri Parrikar speak to the Prime Minister about it or did he raise the matter in the Union Cabinet meetings? If so, what was the result? People have a right to know.

Special status was sought for Goa on two grounds. As a result of large scale purchase of land by persons from outside Goa, including foreigners, the average Goan cannot afford a house or land in Goa. Furthermore, there is large scale migration into the State which may destroy Goa’s identity.

The State Government has the required powers to resolve these two issues. Land is a State subject vide entry 18 of the State List in the Constitution and the State can also legislate on land vide entry 6 of the Concurrent List. In addition, the 74th Amendment to the Consti-tution provides that the function of “regulation of land use and construction of buildings” is one of the municipal functions. As a result of these legal provisions a State is competent to enact laws to restrict land transactions so as to protect the interests of the local people. This protection may involve restrictions on purchase of agricultural land by non-agriculturists as well as restrictions on purchase of land and property by outsiders. Such legal provisions exist in several States. Under the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, no person can purchase land in Maharashtra if he is not an agriculturist. A similar provision also operates in Uttar Pradesh. Film star Amitabh Bachchan purchased agricultural properties in both these States. He had to surrender them as it was held that he was not an agriculturist. Why is such a provision not enacted in Goa?

The right to property is no longer a fundamental right and hence a law by the State Government to protect the interests of the local population is unlikely to be declared null and void by any Court.

According to the RBI guidelines, foreigners cannot acquire immovable property in India unless the concerned individual has established a place of business in this country as per FERA or FEMA, the property is necessary to carry such business and all applicable laws, rules, regulations and directions have been duly complied with. It is found that many foreigners evade these requirements.

The National Security Council Secretariat has cautioned that real estate projects by foreigners in Goa might include drug trafficking, gun-running and prostitution and that some foreign drug cartels are attempting to turn Goa into a base for their activities. The government should immediately scrutinise all land deals by foreigners and, if there is any illegality, confiscate the property and impose punishment on the offender and his local associates, if any.

There is a genuine concern in Goa about the non-availability of housing to the sons of the soil, particularly those belonging to the lower and middle income groups. The Supreme Court has held in several cases that the State has a duty to provide adequate shelter to every citizen so that the fundamental right to life is meaningful. Affordable housing is a most important concern all across the world. Planning mandates in the United Kingdom have generated twenty to thirty per cent of all affordable units built over the last decade. South Africa distributes free plots for houses to its poor income group. Singapore provides public housing for more than 80 per cent of its population. Several State governments in India assume, as their primary responsibility, the provision of affordable housing to the local people. In Rajasthan, the previous State Government had made available thousands of houses as well as plots to people belonging to different income groups. The former Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, had proposed that the statutory right to shelter be included in the Five Year Plan. Affordable housing requires an efficient Housing Board, planning mandates, interest rate subsidies and other financial devices to make housing affordable to all.

Another reason for the demand of special status is the large scale influx of migrants into our State. Goa needs migrant labour. However, uncontrolled migration into the State can upset its demographic composition and lead to social and economic problems. There are several laws to control migration into the State but these laws are not being implemented effectively and remain largely on paper. The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979, The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970 and the Goa Daman and Diu Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules 1982 are some such laws. The 1979 Act provides for registration of all contractors who employed five or more interstate migrants on any day of the preceding twelve months. The contractors must furnish details of the workmen, issue a pass book with passport size photograph to every workman indicating where he is working and other details. The State Government is required to appoint inspectors to oversee implementation of the Act. The law directs builders and labour contractors to provide residential accommodation, sanitation and other facilities to the workers engaged by them. Yet, these provisions are ignored and much of the migrant labour lives in slums under the most unhygienic conditions which pose major health hazards to the migrants as well as the local people.

All migrant workers should be registered compulsorily in the Panchayats and Munici-palities. Aadhar cards as well as Public Distribution System (PDS) cards should be issued to them to avoid having to buy foodgrains and kerosene at high prices. The State Government should hold a yearly audit of all contractors who employ migrant workers and submit a report to the State Legislature for its scrutiny. It should also open an Internet portal indicating the contractors and migrant workers in Goa for public information and verification. The machinery for implementation of the labour legislation needs to be strengthened urgently.

The author, now based in Goa, is a former Union Minister.

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