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Explained: Why Goa’s Pramod Sawant is ready to drop ‘Bhumiputra’ from his govt’s new home ownership law

The contentious law, that may now be renamed Goa Bhumi Adhikarini Act, 2021, however, continues to fuel a political storm in the poll-bound state.

The Bhumiputra may apply to the committee if his house has been built before the cut-off date. (File)

Four days after the Goa Legislative Assembly passed The Goa Bhumiputra Adhikarini Bill, 2021, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said the word ‘Bhumiputra (son of the soil)’ that had angered the state’s tribal population, will be dropped from the title of the legislation.

The contentious law, that may now be renamed Goa Bhumi Adhikarini Act, 2021, however, continues to fuel a political storm in the poll-bound state.

About six months ahead of elections to the Legislative Assembly, ‘Bhumiputra’ also promises to be a poll issue in a political landscape that places great importance on the identity of the ‘Goenkar’, or people of Goan origin, whose interests must be protected over that of the ‘Bhaile (outsiders)’.

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What is the law about, and why was a need felt for the Bill?

The Bill was introduced in the Assembly on July 29. The ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ of the Bill states it “provides for a mechanism to give ownership right to the self-occupied dweller of a small housing unit to enable him to live with dignity and self-respect and exercise his right to life”.

The recently passed Bill accords the status of the ‘Bhumiputra’ — a word that may now be replaced — to a person who has lived in Goa for at least 30 years. Once recognised as Bhumiputra under the specified criteria, an individual can stake claim to ownership of their house of not more than 250 sq m, built before April 1, 2019.

Addressing the House on July 30, Sawant said, “In the last so many years there have been cases of homes built by a person or his parents but the land is not in his name. There is always a sword dangling over their head that someone will file a case against them (over ownership). The land is of different kinds like ancestral property, communidade property, panchayat land. Everyone had wished for the house that they lived in, their generations lived in, to be theirs.”

How many people is the Act likely to benefit?

Sawant said that there were several such cases in rural areas, including in Sattari, Sanguem, and Pernem. In his address on social media on Tuesday, Sawant also brought some data in support of the Bill.

He said only those who had power and water connections in their name could avail of the Bill’s provisions, and not those with lease agreements, ruling out the ‘Bhaile’ who may possibly exploit the law.

In all there were 6.5 lakh homes with electricity connections, spread over 191 Gram Panchayats and 14 municipalities in Goa, Sawant said.

“There are 485 registered revenue villages in Goa and the mool Goenkar (original Goan) lives in these villages. Their homes have a number, electricity connection, but those constructed with a licence are only 20 per cent. The 1/14 extract (document of ownership) is in the name of the occupant or his previous generation hardly in 50 per cent homes. There are over 3,000 homes each before Gram Panchayats and municipalities that have the sword of demolition dangling over them. All these 6,000 homes are original Goans, not migrants. We have verified.”

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Out of 3 lakh homes in Gram Panchayat areas, about 1.5 lakh do not have the 1/14 extract in the name of the occupants, Sawant said.

In rural areas, he said, only 26 people had availed the benefits of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; in urban areas, this number was 100. “This is because people did not have the 1/14 document in their name,” Sawant said.

He also cited the example of about 500 homes in Cancona, South Goa, that faced the prospect of demolition but could not be protected under existing laws like The Goa Mundkars (Protection from Eviction) Act, 1975, and The Goa Regularisation of Unauthorised Construction Act, 2016.

Why has the government agreed to drop the word ‘Bhumiputra’ from the law?

The opposition parties including the Congress, Goa Forward Party, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, and the Aam Aadmi Party had chorused that the making anyone with 30 years of residence in the state a ‘Bhumiputra’ was an insult to the original inhabitants who had lived in Goa for generations.

Sawant’s announcement of the government’s readiness to drop the word Bhumiputra from the Bill, however, came hours after the BJP ST Morcha handed him a memorandum taking “strong objection” to the use of the word ‘Bhumiputra’ in the Bill. The BJP ST Morcha stated that this had “hurt immensely the sentiments and feelings of almost all the tribals of the state and the entire community has come up to agitation against the passing of any such Bill which may have disastrous effect if not attended to with a proper rectification”.

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In a memorandum submitted to Sawant on Tuesday, the BJP ST Morcha wrote that the three tribal communities of Goa — Gauda, Kunbi, and Velip — “identify themselves as the original, first and foremost sons of soil and the word ‘Bhumiputra’ is synonymous in establishing the identity of these “sons of the soil”.

The same evening, Sawant announced, “The sentiments of many people are attached to the word Bhumiputra and the government is ready to drop this word (from the Bill). I assure you that we will drop the word Bhumiputra from the Bill. It is possible to name it Goa Bhumi Adhikarini Bill.”

How does one apply for house ownership under the new law?

The Bill entails the constitution of the Bhumiputra Adhikarini — a committee consisting of the Deputy Collector as its Chairperson, and officials from Town and Country Planning Department, Forest Department, Environment Department, and Mamlatdars of respective talukas as its members.

The Bhumiputra may apply to the committee if his dwelling unit has been built before April 1, 2019. The committee will consider applications seeking ownership by inviting objections within 30 days, including from the land owner which could also be a local body, and then take a decision on granting ownership to the Bhumiputra.

Once recognised as Bhumiputra, will ownership of the house be free?

The claimant or the Bhumiputra, once so recognised, does not get his tenement for free. The Bill states that the Bhumiputra Adhikarini may, by an order, “declare a Bhumiputra to be the owner of the dwelling unit occupied by him upon payment of an amount equivalent to the value of land calculated at the market rate”.

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Will the decision of this committee be final?

An appeal against the Bhumiputra Adhikarini’s decision can be filed before the Administrative Tribunal within 30 days of its decision.

The four-page Bill states: “No suit, prosecution or any other legal proceedings shall lie against the Government or any officer or employee of the Government or any person authorised by the Government or Bhumiputra Adhikarini or its members for anything which is done, or intended to be done, in a good faith under this Act.”

It states that no court shall have jurisdiction “to entertain, decide or deal with any question which is to be decided by the Bhumiputra Adhikarini and Administrative Tribunal under this Act”.

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Why have opposition parties continued to attack Sawant even after he has said the Bill would be renamed?

When the Bill was passed on July 30, opposition MLAs had staged a walk-out demanding that the Bill, and 10 others that were being passed in “haste”, be referred to the select committee, and a one-day session be called subsequently to debate the Bills.

Another charge the Opposition made was that this was the ruling BJP’s “election engineering”, and flagged concerns over illegal structures being regularised under the protection of this Bill.

Opposition parties have since met Governor P S Shreedharan Pillai with memoranda urging him not to give his assent to the Bills.

GFP president Vijai Sardesai said that the CM cannot change the name of the Bill by executive fiat. “Once the Bill is passed, it is the property of the House,” he said. To change its name, he said, it will have to be placed before the House.

Former revenue minister and independent MLA Rohan Khaunte said in a tweet tagging Sawant, “Dr Pramod Sawant realizes folly and fearing backlash, he’s upto gimmick of renaming Bill but unlike simply renaming his home pets, the Bill has to be retabled in assembly.”

The opposition leaders have said that this was the BJP government’s way of securing a vote bank, and pointed fingers at Housing Minister Mauvin Godinho who, they alleged, stands to gain from the migrant vote in Zuari Nagar and Sancoale areas in South Goa.

Godinho, however, said that the areas fall in the Curtolim constituency and not Dabolim, his constituency.

The state government has invited suggestions from the public and said the Bill may be re-introduced in the Assembly in two months. The opposition, however, said that suggestions being called after passing the Bill in the Assembly, was the government’s feeble attempt at damage control.

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