Tuesday 28 Jun 2022

An attempt to strike at heart of Goa's comunidades

THE GOAN NETWORK | JUNE 17, 2022, 12:03 AM IST



The new amendments proposed by the government to the Code of Comunidades seek to completely strip the comunidades of their powers and assume control over land. Documents reveal that the Comunidade Commission had proposed a few amendments to put the house in order. Proposals such as transferring the joneiro (zonn) rights to women as an inheritance from a deceased male member in the family, empowering the government to dismiss ‘rogue managing committees and the power to set election procedures appear to be well-intentioned and aimed at setting right the wrongs.

However,  two proposals introduced by the government appear draconian and strike at the very existence of comunidades: 1. Empowering the government to take possession of comunidade land for projects without any consent, and, 2. The power to legalise thousands of encroachments.

Comunidades, more commonly seen as land associations, have a deep history and have been in existence in Goa for over a hundred years. These bodies which have been documented by the Portuguese as early as 1526, hold land-ownership collectively, and are under the administrative tutelage of the government. Over a period of time, there have been several amendments effected to the Code in consultation with the Comunidade Commission in efforts to troubleshoot issues and maintain order.

While the practice is to hold a Comunidade Commission meeting every five years where functional issues are discussed and suggestions made, the government holds the power to proceed with amendments to the Code in the better interest of comunidades. One expects the government to be rational and uphold the spirit of comunidades via the changes it proposes. The proposal to acquire land without consent is fallacious and in contravention of the Land Settlement and Acquisition Act. It is an ambitious attempt to circumvent a central law.

The second amendment proposed by the government to legalise encroachments may be a matter of public policy but the intention is suspicious because it merely tries to tinker with the existing cut-off date of June 15, 2020, and illegality is sought to be given legal sanctity. This will not only make a mockery of the system but raise questions about the ulterior motives. While on one hand, it will legalise encroachments, it will give hope to many other recent encroachers that at some point in time the cut-off will be pushed further and their structures regularised.

The age-old institution is slowly losing its identity and is being reduced to societies consisting of rights holders. The government has over the years only strengthened its hold, and these two amendments could be the last two nails in the coffin. Since the amendments proposed by the government are serious and expected to have far-reaching consequences, it is necessary to get the comunidades on board, engage them in a dialogue and then put proposals for feedback. Changes to the code have to be made to streamline the working of comunidades, not to strip them of their rights and reduce them to powerless entities. By all means, the two amendments must be outrightly and unanimously rejected.

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