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Special Status – A Goan Dream

But Don’t Hold your Breath

“It took us twenty years to be able to afford our own flat,” she tells me, as we wait for the room to fill up. We’re at the T B Cunha hall in Panjim. “Of course we had to take a loan.”

“I was able to pay it off with my husband’s insurance money.”

It’s odd, to hear this from the Minister of Environment. Alina Saldanha took over more than a ministry, when her husband, Matahny Saldanha died a sudden, tragic death in 2012, just a few short months after he was sworn in. But that’s Goa. Where a Cabinet Minister waits in a near-empty hall, for a press conference to fill up.

“So imagine how difficult it is for families that have five, six children, they can’t afford to buy their own home in Goa. Goans can’t afford a home in their homeland.”

She also took over the fight for Special Status, a long-time dream of her husband, who founded Goa’s Movement for Special Status (GMFSS) in 2008. It has been revived lately, after a largely dormant period in the wake of his untimely death. His widow says, “We are the smallest state. Smaller than the smallest district of any neighbouring state. We don’t have the resources to accommodate the flood of migrants we have seen moving to live here.”

Special Status would restrict the sale of real estate to non-Goans, hopefully making property more affordable to locals and helping retain the special character of Goa. However, those in the know say that the forces hoping for Special Status shouldn’t hold their breath. For one, the powerful real estate lobby is vehemently opposed, and while Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar pays lip service to the idea, past experience shows that the big economic players do enjoy a receptive ear from Parrikar and the rest of Goa’s officialdom.

In addition, it must be said that despite the noble intentions of those seeking Special Status, the tides of history don’t seem amenable. Throughout the world, gorgeous places tend to be developed by both locals and outsiders, who often find ways to skirt restrictions. And with so many Indians from around the country eager to get a piece of the Goan paradise, finding ways to stop them will not be easy, no matter how special our status.

Swanky apartment buildings and gated complexes dot the landscape in Goa, once a foyer for small, tasteful homes. Goans are feeling outnumbered by migrants, both labour class and the rich from other, larger Indian states. No regular Goan earning their wages in the state can ever hope to own these apartments.

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Narendra Modi

“Our dream is broken,” says Vrushali Kelekar from Ponda, a mother of one child. Kelekar tutors schoolchildren in her town, and also runs a novelty store there. “Thirty to forty lakhs minimum for a flat in Ponda. We have given up.”

And so, largely, have the majority of Goans. If you’re not out in Bangalore or Delhi, or Mumbai, making the big bucks and sending them home, forget about it.

“Water, electricity, space, we have very limited resources. We are not against anyone from anyplace else. We want the world to feel welcome here, to come to Goa, to enjoy it, to holiday, and then, for the sake of the lifestyle that makes Goa so enjoyable, to leave,” explains Alina Saldanha.

The conference is underway, as the other dignitaries show up one by one. Prajal Sakhardande, president, echoes Minister Saldanha’s statements. “Our identity is being threatened,” he warns. “Our language, our culture, economics, and our political identity are being diluted.”

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Kiren Rijiju

The GMFSS believes we need to act, and fast, to salvage what is left of Goa for Goans. The primary demand the GMFSS will place before the parliament, when the delegation visits New Delhi in October, accompanied by the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, is the restriction of sale of real estate to people not of Goan origin.

Of course much of Goa has already been sold, by Goans, to outsiders. There is no solution for the damage the state has already suffered. Sold land cannot be reclaimed, nor our Panchayats divested of strangely foreign-sounding names.

Another demand will focus on the protection of the Gaonkari (Communidade) system, which was in place much before the Portuguese ever set foot in Goa.

A recent move by the incumbent government to take over the Communidades has sent a flutter of panic throughout the state. A system which has preserved land in Goa for centuries is now in danger of being marginalized, if not entirely made defunct.

Powerful voices have risen in protest. Goa’s famous priest-turned-politician, Dias Bismarque is primary among them.

There are also voices that oppose the demand for Special Status. Voices that warn of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. If Goa is granted special status, they argue, Goans will only be able to sell land to Goans, primarily benefitting politicians and their henchmen.

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Manohar Parrikar
Minister of State for Home Affairs, Rijuju last month, pointed out that a demand for special status would be unconstitutional. To this, the GMFSS argues that India’s constitution was formulated much before Goa joined the union in 1961, and as such, Goa had no voice in it, while other states did.

“There is nothing unconstitutional about this demand,” assures Kamat of GMFSS. “What we want are exactly the provisions already granted to Himachal Pradesh.”

“When we spoke of Special Status to Modi, prior to the national election this year, he was pleased to note that we didn’t want economical aid,” adds Saldanha. “He noted that all we’re trying to do is safeguard our culture and our land, for our future generations.”

Modi, in typical pre-election generosity, promised a bouquet of assurances to the Goan voter, special status among them.

Rijuju’s statement in the parliament, while carrying the weight of a representative of the Central Government, comes before any debate or vote on the subject.

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Alina Saldanha

“Such an important decision cannot be taken without debate, discussion, and of course voting,” point out the GMFSS.

The group remains confident, and will take their case to the centre in the coming months.