The State government appears to be fishing in troubled waters again by stoking a critical issue of regularising structures on Comunidade land. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant disclosed that his government is exploring the possibility of tweaking the Comunidade legislation to protect houses built on Comunidade land against demolition. Sawant said he has come across cases where houses on Comunidade land constructed over a decade back are being termed as “illegal” by incumbent committees, and decisions of predecessors are being frequently challenged and acted upon.
It is normal practice for the presiding committee to rescind or scrutinise past decisions, besides there is nothing wrong in running checks on illegalities, no matter which regime they belonged to. A wrong cannot be allowed to remain a wrong, and that applies to all spheres, including governance where elected governments hold the right to revoke, modify or scan decisions of past governments.
The government, which holds administrative tutelage over Comunidades would do grave injustice by directly meddling in their functioning or trying to limit their scope by tweaking the law. Moreover, the amendment will act as a legislative remedy nullifying court directives that went against encroachers. There are several illegalities on Comunidade land facing legal challenges in court and even demolition orders have been issued against illegal structures.
Such sensitive decisions must not only have the mandate of Comunidades but look at the larger scenario. We cannot afford to have a situation where encroachers on Comunidade land become automatic beneficiaries of the law. The theory that the amendment will benefit Goans is debatable because Sawant is counting settlers who are considered Goans under the domicile clause, and that includes migrants who are now Goans. There has to be complete clarity on who the target is.
The narrative goes awry when the law is seen in the Goan and settler perspectives. For now, the fear is that the government is eyeing vote-bank politics by providing a window of hope to even those considered encroachers by the Comunidades and courts. It appears a complicated proposition when government refuses to acknowledge settlers on its land even after 40 years.
Land law tweaks are always viewed with scepticism, and the government must learn from past mistakes. Lest we forget, the controversial Bhumiputra Adhikarini Bill failed because there was stiff opposition throughout the State with legal experts slamming it as “defeating the very essence of the rule of law” and setting a dangerous precedent of legalising illegalities. The bill sought to give rights to encroachers who constructed illegal houses before April 1, 2019, giving a blanket licence to grab properties.
Against the backdrop of the Bhumiputra Adhikarini Bill, this move is baffling, especially the timing, since there is no demand made nor an urgency shown from any quarters. The fact that Lok Sabha elections are looming strengthens the belief that it has a political link.
The State government cannot take the grandstand and be the judge, jury and executioner without hearing out all stakeholders. The winds of change have begun to blow, and the State will have to brace up for yet another uproar. Sawant will have a lot to explain.