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No More Welcome To Encroachers

ENCROACHMENTS on the properties of the state government, local bodies and comunidades have been going on in the state for a long time. A classic example has come to light in the Margao municipal area where 50 per cent of 23 open spaces ‘gifted’ to the municipal council by builders way back in the mid-1980s for creation of recreational facilities have been occupied by encroachers. The encroached pieces of land, being in prime areas of the commercial capital of the state, are worth several crore. Comunidade lands have been grabbed, including by politicians. Even public spaces have been encroached, at times in connivance with officials. The state government, local bodies or comunidades have failed to regain the encroached pieces of land.

Encroachments begin with erection of a temporary ‘shelter’ that gradually turn into permanent homes, shops or shrines with the authorities taking no action in the beginning itself. Then the clamour starts for making the encroachments legal. Though there are laws to deal with encroachers politicians come in the way of enforcement as they use encroachers as vote bank. Even if legal process starts, the delay in taking action to get back the property gives the occupiers legitimacy; besides proof is often manufactured to support the claim by the encroachers with the help of unprincipled government officials. There have been instances of encroachment cases going on for decades without any settlement; the situation is used by politicians to their advantage. The best way to prevent unnecessary litigation and loss of property is to prevent encroachment in the first place and carry out relentless legal drive against those who have intruded into the government or properties belonging to state government, local bodies or comunidade. Allowing illegalities could only lead to proliferation of encroachments; such a situation should be prevented by the authorities so as to ensure that the authorities do not have to engage in litigation with encroachers.

The matter of encroachments has been discussed in the state Assembly on several occasions and every time it was resolved that encroachments be cleared. However, the resolutions against encroachers have remained confined to resolutions and warnings: there has been no follow-up action. During the term of the previous Assembly the state legislators unanimously resolved that open spaces in towns and villages should be protected and illegalities thereon should not be permitted. The legislators also highlighted that the provisions of laws against encroachments were being flouted by landlords, developers and third parties by carrying out development in open spaces. Francisco D’Souza, the then deputy chief minister who also headed the revenue department, conceded that encroachments had been made in many places and that the encroached pieces of land were either crooked parcels of land, in depressions or in parcels where the land is very small and that in some open spaces, religious structures have been erected. The government had formed a House committee to deal with the problem but its findings have not yet been publicised. These illegalities could be ended if the state draws a policy wherein small or crooked parcels of land could be officially allotted to established social or religious organisations or others for development of public utility facilities. The upkeep of these facilities should also be given to the organisations to whom the land has been allotted but under no circumstances slums or illegal houses should be permitted.

Strangely, instead of evicting the squatters and encroachers the state authorities thought it fit to regularize encroachments in 2016. This was a clear indication that the authorities wanted to condone the illegalities. The state government enacted a law – The Goa Regularisation of Unauthorized Construction – to regularize the unauthorized constructions in Goa under which any person who had carried out unauthorised construction could seek its regularization by making an application before the designated authority to set in the motion for regularistion. It is not yet known whether the law has been used by any one and how many have benefitted from it. The law was aimed to help thousands of people who had encroached upon comunidade land. Even commercial and unauthorized constructions in land belonging to institutions could also be regularised under the new law, which could open floodgates for regularization of illegal constructions even on pieces of land belonging to local bodies. The government needs to scrutinize the provisions of the law so as to prevent its misuse and selective use. The state authorities need to ensure that encroachments do not take place and that there was no regularization of the illegalities to favour some and punish others. The rule of law should apply to one and all.

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