Officials should be given free hand to clear illegal occupation
Encroachments on government land in Goa have been done by all and sundry, high and low. So, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s directive to government officials to not allow encroachments is welcome. We hope his advice that the cases of encroachment should be brought to the notice of the public works department or the department concerned is followed in spirit so that the encroachments are cleared at the earliest. In most cases the government officials and local representatives of the people in panchayats or municipal bodies are aware of the encroachments. Many of the encroachments have been facilitated by local representatives with the connivance of the officials, who tend to look the other side so as not to displease their political masters. Not long ago the government had told the Assembly that there were over 4,500 reported encroachments on government and communidade lands. Owing to encroachments, development projects were delayed or shelved in endless litigation for reclaiming the land.
Encroachments on lands of the state government, local bodies and comunidades have been going on for decades. Though local politicians and officials generally have the knowledge of them, the authorities have done little to clear the old encroachments or prevent new ones. Admitting that encroachments have been common in the state, the Chief Minister has said that some people have become habitual in grabbing government land and that the government needs to initiate strict measures to end illegal possessions. Though the Chief Minister’s comment suggests some amount of defeatism, we can only hope that it galvanises the bureaucracy to act in an effective and non-partisan manner to restore the ownership of the encroached pieces of land to the government and the local bodies and comunidades. He should lead by example by removing the encroachments in his constituency. Once it starts at his home, other ministers and also MLAs would be compelled to follow the example. Leaders of different political parties have from time to time favoured removal of encroachments on public land, but they never brought pressure on the government officials to do it in reality. Will Sawant choose to be different from his predecessors and fellow politicians in the ruling and the opposition camps and remove the encroachments from government and communidade lands?
Among encroachers are politicians. They get away with it by misusing their office. The classic case of encroachment by a politician was that of a 599 square metre plot by former tourism minister Dilip Parulekar who sought to get the same legalized by a government order. The move did not succeed as the Bombay High Court at Goa quashed the order. There have been allegations against ministers and their relations of grabbing government land. The government is aware that a number of its proposals for development and job creation suffered for want of land. The latest among the projects is the campus for Indian Institute of Technology (Goa). It is sad to note that despite the knowledge that lakhs of square metres of land had been encroached upon by people no efforts were made to reclaim the land and put it to better use.
Though a small state like Goa could not afford it, the state government had once proposed to legalise encroachments and constructions thereupon on government and comunidade lands. The proposal was, however, opposed by comunidades. The state has seen its population grow manifold and a number of Goans do not own a house. Developmental works that can give fillip to the state economy have been suffering for want of land. The government would have to ensure that all the encroached lands are taken back and put to public use. The directive of the Chief Minister to officials to not allow encroachments on government land must be enforced in a focused and unsparing manner. The government officials should be held responsible for non-removal of old encroachments and early prevention of new encroachments in their jurisdiction. If they are found to be not doing it, action should be taken against them. At the same time the officials should be given a free hand to act against encroachers. Squatters cannot be allowed to derail projects.