Once in a while, we come across certain cases or happenings that shake our belief in the system that guards us. It not only impairs an individual privately but also disturbs his surroundings demographically to an extent that one worries about loss of identity. In smaller states, such threat levels are usually very high and especially rampant. Here are two such cases where the personal rights of citizens were stolen while diluting the demographic symmetry of a small state like Goa.
Presume you own an ancestral parcel of land. Your grandfather purchased it 70 years ago. You maintain it present-day lawfully and legitimately. One day you encounter some labourers mending your land. You have no clue who they are. When questioned, they assert the owner of the land has asked them to clear the plot. Owner? Who? The contractor informs that the land has been sold and the owner, who resides in Dubai, has contracted him.
You immediately log on to the government web portal that displays the ownership status of lands across Goa. You type the survey number and you feel shaken to the core. Someone else is registered as the owner of your ancestral land. You never sold the parcel of land. How did the ownership get deeded?
Probe deeper and what comes to the fore is a sinister nexus between fraudsters, government officials and some lawyers usurping ancestral lands of hundreds of citizens across Goa. A small, idyllic village in the Bardez Taluka in North Goa exposes this egregious crime where a citizen is disenfranchised of his most cherished, duly assured, completely legitimate right – right to property and ownership of the legal real estate. Every property owner in Badem village has erected a very telling hoarding – this property is not for sale and so is the rightful owner of this property. Every household or orchard land has displayed this board in the front. More than one lakh square meters of land in this village belonging to various individuals have been fraudulently transferred to third parties. Ordinary citizens are battling civil disputes in civil courts for no fault of theirs. A cabal of fraudsters got together and swindled their lands. The fraud was committed in ingenious ways. Original pages specifying ownership of lands were torn apart from the protected documents of the department of archives. Bogus sale deeds were inserted instead. Subsequent documents were prepared based on these fake entries and lands belonging to different individuals were sold to different parties from outside Goa. But there was one simple problem – precision. The fraudsters were aware of the present owners of the land and the date on which the parcel was purchased; however, they were completely unaware of their details. They did not know their date of birth or even the date of death. So most of these fake sale deeds were allegedly signed either by unborn persons on the registration date, dead persons or persons of different genders and marital statuses.
The entire administration shuddered when this swindling was exposed before the chief minister. A special investigation team was formed and more than 100 such cases have come to the fore until now, 35 FIRs have been registered, 9 persons including some government servants have been arrested and eight of them are already out on bail.
Goa Assembly during the recently concluded monsoon session passed a very interesting Bill – The Goa Change of Name (Amendment) Bill, 2022. This Bill debarred people from outside Goa from changing their name if their parents or grandparents were not born in Goa. The Bill also specified that any change in a person’s name will have to be executed before a civil judge and not before a civil registrar, as practised now. The Bill read: a person “born and whose birth is registered in Goa, and whose parents (at least one of them) or grandparents (at least one) were born in Goa” is eligible to apply for a change of his/her name.
It is a strange Bill to be passed in the assembly. Why would a government bring such legislation and why is it of such immense consequence? After numerous complaints from the citizenry, the government realised that people who have migrated from outside Goa have started changing their names altogether. Goan names with Goan surnames are being adopted by exploiting loopholes in the Act. These changed names are then used for various purposes, deceitful or otherwise.
The trend grew to a level in the past couple of years that newspaper declarations of change in the name started creating a lot of fright among the local population. Some political parties espousing the cause of nativism made it an election issue and received tremendous response from the voters.
These two specific cases narrate to us what the government needs to do to safeguard the basic interests and rights of its citizenry. Although the special investigation team probing land frauds is acting overtime to unearth the total extent of the scam, existing laws are inadequate to tackle crimes of this magnitude. Every accused is bailed out within a week and considering the depths of planning and meticulous execution of this fraud, police officers too would require assistance from multiple agencies to understand the nuances of forgeries and processes that got bypassed in the bargain by the system itself.
People aspiring to purchase plots of land in Goa need to be doubly sure about the authenticity of their documents. They need to take time, cover all bases and only then decide whether to invest their hard-earned money. For the government’s part, a law like a name change legislation can help safeguard the rights of the citizens. Land is fundamental to identity.
Pramod Acharya is a senior journalist and columnist and the Editor of Prudent Media, Goa. He tweets at @PramodGoa