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Goa Colonised by Indian Army?

The State of Goa is a small land mass. Admeasuring 3,702 square kilometers, it is even smaller than some of the districts of bigger states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, etc. Goa was the last part of this sub-continent to become a part of the Indian union. And yet, if one considers the data, the presence of the Union Government through its various agencies and undertakings is the highest of all the states in Goa as far as the land holdings of these central agencies is concerned.

Going by the official figures available and leaving aside the land holdings of some Central Government agencies like the Post and Telegraph Department, the All India Radio, Doordarshan, to name a few, as much as 67,62,717 square metres of land in Goa is in the possession of Central government agencies.
In fact, as much as 8.2 per cent of Goa’s smallest Taluka Mormugao, is in the possession of Central Government agencies.

The Indian Armed Forces comprising of the Navy, Army and Air Force have a total 36, 21,877 square metres of Goan land in their possession. This is apart from the Anjediv Island that was gifted by the Government of Goa to the Indian Navy for their Sea Bird project at Karwar.

In return, what Goa got from the Indian Armed Forces is a very narrow divider on the 4-lane highway from Vasco to Verna in the sector adjacent to the Indian Navy’s establishment at Dabolim only because the Navy was not willing to give a few inches of the Goan land in its possession.

In order to have a proper divider for the 4 lane highway, a few inches of the land was required near the consumer store which in any case is run as a civilian outlet. However, as the Navy refused to part with this land, the divider had to be narrowed as a result, that stretch of the road has today turned into an accident prone zone.

Besides, the Indian Armed Forces took over the Dabolim airport which was a civilian airport under the Portuguese regime and till date the Navy which was given its control, is not willing to give it up despite having a major naval base a little to the South at Karwar being the Sea Bird project. Besides, the government of Goa is in the process of giving precious land at Dabolim to the Indian Navy to enable their personnel including retired persons to construct their bungalows even though they are given the freedom to sell these bungalows after three years. So why should our land be acquired by the government at a pittance so that some Navy personnel after three years, can sell the same at market rate thereby making huge profits from the sale of our land at the cost of us Goans.

Due to the Navy’s presence at Dabolim, Goa has been compelled to opt for another civilian airport which is really not a viable and workable option for a small state like Goa. More worrisome is the hurdles the naval authorities put in the operations of the Dabolim airport as a civilian airport with restricted timings for the airport’s operation. The recent case of returning a civilian aircraft carrying passengers to the point of its origin is just one instance of the naval authorities’ highhandedness that has come to light.
And despite this, the Navy now wants to acquire two islands – the Grande and Pequeno – in Mormugao Taluka! Besides, they have also cast their eyes on the private land at Bimvel beach.

The Navy which already has more Goan land in its possession than what Goa can afford to give to it, and which has a major base a few kilometers away from Goa, surely does not need to take over more land in this state.

The security concern sought to be raised by the naval authorities is a bluff and if at all it needs to be addressed, the same can be done by increasing patrolling around the islands and also closely monitoring all vessels approaching to them instead of taking possession of this natural wealth of the sons of Goan soil. The acquisition by the Navy would result in Goans barred from ever visiting their own land in these two islands just as Goans today face innumerable hurdles to visit the Anjediv Island to celebrate the feast there even though the Navy when it was handed over the Anjediv Island had promised that there would be no hurdles whatsoever to the people to visit the island to celebrate the feast. That promise is now forgotten and people have to face innumerable hardships and maybe in a few more years, they will not even be allowed to step upon that island.

It would also be significant to note that the Indian Armed Forces have not yet handed back to the civilian authorities the buildings and land in its possession in Panjim around the market and at Altinho even though in lieu of this land they were provided huge tracts of land at Bambolim. In a classic case of having the cake and eating it too, the Armed Forces took possession of the land at Bambolim and are not relinquishing the land in Panjim and Altinho.

More recently, the Indian Navy has refused to hand over land around the Dabolim airport that is in its possession for the crucial need of expanding the Dabolim airport. Expansion of the Dabolim airport is of immense importance to Goa as the entire tourism industry is dependent on it. However, the Indian Navy is not bothered about Goa or Goa’s economy and development, but only wants more and more Goan land to be in its possession.

The Mormugao Port Trust is yet another central government organization that has taken possession of a large chunk of Goa’s land in the Mormugao Taluka. While prior to 1964 the MPT had only 6,84,706 square metres of land in its possession, over the years it has taken more and more land and as on date 13,74,757 square metres of land is in its possession with 5,19,563 square metres acquired for it between 1971 and 1985.

And what has Goa got in return from MPT? Dust pollution for one for the residents of the port town and the slums in and around Vasco to feed the labour required at the port. As far as employment for Goans at the Port Trust is concerned, it has depleted to miniscule levels in recent times with practically all the officers being imported from outside the state.
          
But more alarming is the attitude of the MPT towards the State government and its authority. The MPT does not take permissions from any of the local authorities for any of their developmental activities within the area under its possession on grounds that it is operational area. Using this excuse, even residential quarters have been constructed.

The MPT does not even bother to consult the State administration leave alone seek its permission is indicated with the proposal for laying a parallel railway track from Vasco to Hospet by the South Western Railway. MPT using its clout with the central agencies got the Railway Board to approve this proposal of theirs and the Government of Goa was not even aware of such a proposal. Now that the Railway Board has approved the proposal, the Town & Country Planning Department of Goa Government is studying the alignment and its impact on Goans particularly their houses and other structures and land.

Despite this high handed behavior, the MPT has now come up with grandiose plans to expand its operations to the Vasco Bay and Baina Bay which will not only result in displacing Goans particularly those living in the Vasco Bay, but also acquisition of more land by the Goa government.

Hence it is time for Goans and its government to take a stand on this matter and study how much of land in Central government agencies’ possession is utilized by them and how much do they really need. This is important when one considers the fact that Zuari Industries Limited were given so much of land to set up their fertilizer factory that most of it was not utilized and the vacant land has only recently been used to set up a whole new campus for the BITS Pilani Institute!

Given the fact that Port Trusts are now empowered to lease excess land in their possession for commercial purposes, it is high time that the land in MPT’s possession be carefully scrutinized so that the MPT does not commercially exploit Goa’s land while depriving the State and its inhabitants of the right to enjoy it.
The Goa Shipyard Ltd which has 1,56,000 square metres of land in its possession wants the Industrial Development Corporation to grant it more land for its expansion plans. The point of significance in this case is that the Goa Shipyard Limited is in possession of 14,480 square metres of land for which the Lease Deed has not yet been signed.

Other Central agencies holding land in Goa are Oil and Natural Gas Corporation – 10,15,000 square metres; National Institute of Oceanography – 75,295 square metres, National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research – 1,47,660 square metres, Indian Council of Agricultural Research – 3,57,128 square metres and Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology – 15,000 square metres.

It is indeed ironical that while Goa has the National Institute of Oceanography and the National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research, neither of these organizations have been able to offer solutions to problems faced by the State like erosion of beaches or even the more alarming appearance of tar balls on the beaches!

Although the Central government agencies have so much of land in their possession and though quite a bit of it is not being utilized by them, they still want more land as the MPT and Goa Shipyard is on record stating so. That is why the question that comes to the mind is whether the government of Goa is aware of the fact that the central agencies already have a sizeable amount of land which they are not utilizing.

Therefore, it appears that the government is acquiring land for the Central agencies without any application of mind as if a proper assessment was done, they would not be having excess land with them. It would also be pertinent to take note that Central Government agencies cannot acquire any land without the consent of the concerned State government.

Not satisfied with the land grab, the Central government agencies have now turned their eyes upon the Goan rivers and want to take control of the two main rivers – Zuari and Mandovi – which are the lifeline of the Goan economy as they keep the mining industry thriving through the barge traffic transporting the ore to the Port.

The Central government has proposed that it would dredge these rivers to deepen the navigational channels. But in return, it wants the State government to hand over jurisdiction of the river to the central government agency. This would be disastrous as then any activity in the rivers would be decided by the Centre. The centre will well erect jetties and do whatever it wishes without even consulting the State government and the local people will be denied access to these rivers.

Instead of handing over jurisdiction of the rivers to the Centre, the State government must demand from the Planning Commission that the central agency should be directed to dredge the rivers and deepen the navigational channels, simply because the earnings from export of ore transported through these rivers, goes to the Centre and not the State exchequer.

Therefore, we demand that the Chief Minister put an end to this wanton acquisition of Goan land by Central Government agencies on mere whims and fancies.

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