Assembly Must Be Proactive On Land Reforms

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Both the leader of the House and leader of the Opposition in the legislative assembly need to tell this state why they are silent on non-collection of land revenue tax since 1988

Nandkumar M Kamat

Who is a cultivator and what are forms of land ownerships in Goa? On the background of uprising by cultivators in Sattari-every MLA should read the bilingual and now out of print two volume “‘magnum opus’, ‘Aspects of agricultural activity in Goa, Daman and Diu’ by ex-Chief Secretary and agricultural economist late Jose C Almeida published by the Government Printing Press, in 1967.

Goa legislative assembly is the only place where all the issues including land ownership in Sattari, Ozari, Pernem, land related road issue in Maulinguem, Mopa; evacuee property issue in Mayem, long pending issue of collection of land revenue tax by a new notification, failure to implement eighth amendment to the tenancy act and enforcing the standards of cultivation, revision of membership of tenants associations maintaining Khazan bundhs, absentee landlordism by tenants deemed cultivators, failure to invoke section 36 of tenancy act to assume management of agricultural lands deliberately kept uncultivated, establishing public crematoriums and burial places could be settled either by amendment acts or new radical legislations. But shockingly not a single MLA or political party is ready to get it done inside the assembly.

The Gomes committee to prepare an ethnological report on Gouly/Dhangars of Goa in 2004 had strongly recommended resolution of issue of titles to the land and traditional community pastures impacting 110 settlements and ten thousand members of pastoral community presently under OBCs. Without any papers in hand most of these pastoral people can be easily evicted from their traditional dwellings. No MLA including their leader Chandrakant Kawalekar showed any interest to move a simple legislation on par with ‘The Goa, Daman and Diu Mundkars (Protection from Eviction) Act, 1975 and Rules, 1977’ despite my repeated appeals in past 15 years. After splitting and defecting the scent of power has allegedly gone to the heads of these ten ex Congress MLAs elected in 2017.

I recall what I had written in August 2014 in this column- “a lot can be written about how MGP, Congress, NCP, UGDP conspired to kill land reforms initiated in 1963. Nothing was heard on completion of the land reforms process after the 1973 report of Anthony Desouza house committee on Land ceiling act was shelved.

Evasion of land revenue tax is another multiparty megascam. Both the leader of the House and leader of the Opposition in the legislative assembly need to tell this state why they are silent on non-collection of land revenue tax since 1988? What it takes to redraft a new notification at reasonable tax rates? How can this state lose a legitimate revenue of more than Rs 100 crore a year? Who would recover the arrears of land revenue pending since 1988 which may amount to more than Rs 2,000 crore?

The constitutional, statutory duty of a district collector is to collect “land revenue”. A collector is understood as a government official who collects land revenue from land owners. But both the collectorates in Goa have not collected anything under the budget subhead “land revenue tax” since 1988 so the designation of collectorate and collector has lost the mandated meaning.” The uprising in Sattari and ongoing protests at Xel-Melaulim are stark indicators of incomplete land reforms in Goa and also the failure of the legislative function of the most powerful instrument in democracy- the Goa legislative assembly in enacting the necessary laws to complete the remaining agenda of land reforms left suspended by MGP in 1973. It is agreed that land is a precious commodity in the small state with high levels of urbanization and migration.

But how could the government overlook the contrast between old and the new conquest talukas? Thousands of hectares of tenanted paddy fields in Tiswadi and Bardez have been left uncultivated by the cultivators after getting their ownership titles. On the other side in Xel-Melaulim and other villages in Sattari people are actively engaged in agro-horticulture without any ownership documents of land.

Would the legislative assembly of Goa turn a blind eye to this contrasting and disturbing picture? If horticulturists in Xel-Melaulim and other villages are interested in agrarian occupation then why they are not treated on par with all those tenants who were given the ownership of their lands under the ‘agricultural tenancy act, 1964’. Even the mundkars got a very fair deal after the liberation. Don’t the political parties beating the drums of “Goa for Goans’’, ‘jobs only for Goans” think that land reforms are necessary to give socio economic justice to all those who are still left out of the tenancy act, 1964?

 The new generation of youth in Sattari and elsewhere has clearly seen through the political game and in future it won’t be easy for any candidate to take them for granted and think of winning the elections. It is good that a heavyweight politician like Vishwajit Rane could see this transformation and astutely reversed his stand on IIT campus in his constituency. If he believes genuinely in land reforms and permanent solution to the long pending issue of title of the land to genuine cultivators in Sattari then he should force his party and the Chief Minister immediately to move a proper amendment act or a separate legislation in forthcoming budget session of Goa assembly instead of buying time till next assembly election.

I am sure that politics in Goa never happens that way because public memory is short and fundamental issues never torment the candidates in any election. MLAs have forgotten their most fundamental duty – to legislate. Assembly exists for legislative functions and incremental legislative reforms. The government develops cold feet when any discussion of legislative reforms begins. The opposition too has completely let down the people of Goa on these fundamental issues. Congress and MGP which swear by socialism forgot the incomplete agenda of land reforms after coming to or sharing power post 1980.

There would be upwelling of public support if the government takes positive steps to give land to all the genuine and verified cultivators in Sattari. I can see the future of politics before and after 2022 assembly elections clearly- no more anyone would be able to win the coming assembly elections by taking the smart voters for granted. This time people have specific questions to be raised. And present Goa assembly has a last chance to complete all the unfinished business on pending land ownership issues this year beginning with a legislation to give titles of the land to the cultivators in Sattari. Other issues can also be resolved through legislative actions.