Facing rising concern among Goan communities that migrants are adopting local names to benefit from social schemes, the state government is probing all those in the state who have moved to change their names in the last 15 days — as a first step.
“We are aware that this is a social issue. But before we frame any new rules, the government is looking to probe the manner in which these name changes are taking place. Our initial enquiry is about who these people are, their reasons, and the offices they have approached for getting this done,” said Law Minister Nilesh Cabral.
“We have called for all advertisements seen in newspapers for name changes in the last 15 days. Some are so tiny that you cannot even make out what is being changed. My office has now started indexing the names, and their details as they appeared in English, Konkani and Marathi papers. We will send the file to the police and seek their help to probe the reasons why these men and women changed their names,” he said.
On Friday, the state Assembly passed the Goa Change of Name and Surname (Amendment) Bill, 2019, making such changes a criminal offence. The Bill is yet to get the Governor’s consent, and the rules have not been framed and notified.
But Cabral said the “initial enquiry” by his office has revealed that of a sample size of 35 cases where people changed names and claimed in advertisements that they had done so through the sub-registrar, only two had legal documents as proof.
In the other 33 cases, the probe showed, sub-registrar offices confirmed that they were not involved. Some of these requests came through panchayats, which is illegal.
The state earlier had a Goa Change of Name and Surname Act, 1990, to ensure the names that had Portuguese spellings and pronunciation were corrected when translated to English. “It was also to ensure that certain castes were given the legal route to take the second name of the community they were associated with, as certain second names came with a heavy stigma,” said Cabral.
Alex Reginald, a Congress MLA who claims he has been following the issue for a year, said there have been “complaints of people misusing the law and also changing their names to avail Portuguese passport and also to benefit in land deals in Goa”.
“Our aim is to ensure that migrants do not change their names in our state. We respect the Constitution and place India first. But this is now becoming a social issue, and we are demanding that stringent measures be put in place to protect the interests, future and stability of the Goan way of life,” he said.
In the Assembly, Reginald produced RTI data which, he says, should be probed. “In less than three years, 4,197 cases have showed up in small advertorials and which claim they did (the name change) via courts. We need answers on who these are… Are they Goans? If not, why are they changing their names to Goan surnames, with Catholic or Hindu titles?” he said.
The MLA claims that according to a “private probe” done by him, several instances have come up where people have claimed they were born in their homes and not in hospitals, with witnesses being brought to courts to get their names changed.
In the Assembly, other leaders too weighed in on the issue, with Churchill Alemao saying that others “cannot come and become Goan with a mere name change”.
Cabral, however, said the government cannot do much if the citizen chooses The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, as central provisions apply.
“The larger focus is to see if all these are being done fraudulently… Today, I hear that in a village of 300 shops, 200 are owned by outsiders. Goans today have left in large numbers to Portugal and London leaving a huge vacuum. That is now being filled by outsiders. This is a bigger issue than just name change,” he said.
When contacted, police officers said they are yet to get an official communication on any new action. Until new rules are framed, they said, they can only assist in getting details of such changes. Under the new Bill, those who are found guilty face up to three months in jail.