Monday 22 April 2024

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Mayem : Evacuee protected, locals dejected

 

"Forty years have passed for our liberation from the Portuguese, but we are still governed by them. The only option now is to wage yet another liberation struggle to get ourselves freed from the colonial rule, imposed by our own democratic government".

Thirty year old graduate Rajesh Kalangutkar, born after Goan liberation (1961), was furious while talking to the team of journalists when we visited Mayem, a village just across the Mandovi river and around 20 kms from Panaji, the capital city.

The problem is simple, yet complicated. The whole village, with a population of over 30,000, has been declared as evacuee property – which means that it is owned by a Portuguese who fled the country and settled in Portugal after liberation.

"They did not come here with land in 1510. It is our land they confiscated. Why should it still belong to them", asks Kashinath Mayekar, president of the Mayem Nagarik Kriti Samiti, formed by the villagers.

They fought for it during the Portuguese regime, which ultimately led to Mayem becoming one of the major hubs of the liberation movement. They kept fighting after liberation, when Goa became part of India, but as the union territory. They are still fighting, in a full-fledged state, for return of their ancestral land.

It all began in 1816, when the colonial rulers confiscated the whole village admeasuring 3773 hectares from the Mayem Communidade – a self-governed village commune system which is still prevalent in Goa. It was handed over to Diogo da Costa Ataide Teive, with a decree to look after it for three generations.

The Count de Mayem, as he was called then, eventually consolidated his position and also took over the land owned by the temple of a local deity Shri Maya Kelbai. The third generation died in 1929, but the land was never returned to the Portuguese government.

On the contrary, when Atmaram Mayekar, a brave villager, put up a strong united front in 1945 against the then living 'heir' Eurico Noronha da Silva and even managed to get the court order for handing over the property back to the temple, the struggle was linked it to Ram Manohar Lohia's liberation movement and mercilessly suppressed by arresting the leaders and ousting several farmers from their land.

Though this provoked several youngsters from Mayem to jump into the liberation movement, end of Portuguese dictatorship in 1961 did not bring 'freedom' in Mayem. The then democratic government of Goa, Daman and Diu preferred to declare the whole village as the evacuee property after Noronha da Silva – a Portuguese citizen - left for Portugal in 1964 to settle down in his homeland.

Since then, the property is looked after by the custodian of the evacuee property, formed under the Goa, Daman and Diu Evacuee Properties Act, 1965. "After suppressing us for around one and a half century by the Portuguese, we are now suppressed by the Custodian in a similar manner", alleges Mayekar.

"It is not the evacuee property. I am the legal heir who owns the whole village", claims Antonia Pereira, nephew of Ricardina da Silva, widow of Eurico Noronha da Silva. He claims that the Custodian owes him Rs 113 crore, accumulated till date towards the annual income since 1965.

"We don't save more than Rs 20 lakh per year over Mayem as around Rs 70 lakh is our annual expenditure on it", claims Melwyn Vaz, the Custodian. His office has however released Rs 68 lakh to Periera and his aunt Ricardina, at the behest of the ruling politicians, on three different occasions under the pretext of repairs of the family chapel and the house.

This is the reason, feel the protesting villagers, why the greedy politicians do not intend to resolve the issue once and for all. Being considered as a milking cow, the politicians are releasing money in instalments, with a secret understanding, they allege.

Though Vaz admits that the house is still in his custody, he has allowed Pereira to stay there, which the Samiti is objecting to "He has been staying there illegally with full protection from the ministers", alleges Adv Amrut Kansar, the Samiti lawyer and former MP.

In fact the problem has aggravated from the time several successive governments helping out Periera monetarily rather than getting the villagers' ancestral property released. When in disgust the villagers recently demolished the compound wall around Pereira's house as it was blocking their traditional pathway, he has been provided with armed police protection while leaders of the Samiti are reporting at the police station every day.

Going a step forward, the government has appointed one-man commission headed by Dr Eurico Santan da Silva, retired high court judge, to probe into the illegalities committed by three former custodians by allowing encroachments on the land, which means new houses built by the villagers as a result of division in the family.

"Forget building new houses, they do not even allow us to repair our old houses", complains Rohidas Kerkar, a villager. But as the act does not allow any change on the land, custodian Vaz says he cannot tolerate when they build RCC structures by demolishing old earthen houses under the garb of repairs.

While even tribal villages in the forest belt of Goa have tar roads today, Mayem is one village which is still having 'kachha' roads or no roads at all in several localities. "All our developmental proposals - even digging a well for drinking water - is rejected by the custodian", complains Anant Shet, former deputy sarpanch.

"The custodian is acting hypocratic", alleges Samiti president Mayekar, pointing out at lakhs of square metres of evacuee property leased out to big private mining houses like Chowgules and Dempos for extracting iron ore, dumping rejects and setting up beneficiation plant at the rate of only Rs 1000 annually.

"It means the state has powers, but these politicians do not want to exercise it for our benefit", states Mayekar. Except the government projects for schools and acquiring land for the Konkan railway track, the village is deprived of all kind of developmental activities which other Goans are privileged with.

Chief minister Francisco Sardinha, running a coalition government with the BJP, has even deprived them of becoming owners of the house they are living in and the field they are tilling, for which legislations have been enforced for over a decade now, putting an end to the zamindari system.

As the tenancy act was not made applicable to those living in the evacuee property, BJP leader Manohar Parrikar had managed to get the amendments passed unanimously to the Tenancy Act as well as the Evacuee Properties Act. But, for strange reasons, they are not sent to the governor for assent.

"I will challenge both the amendment bills in the court", says Pereira, though he does not want to comment on a basic issue of whether he is the legal heir of the property. The samiti however alleges that he is fully protected by chief minister Francisco Sardinha as well as minister Mauvin Godinho, his family friend.

"Our fight is not against Pereira but the custodian and the government", states 50-year old Adv Kansar, who has been with the villagers from the time he was the MP in 1977. He demands a clear cut policy on the evacuee property as well as rural housing.

"If necessary, we are prepared to fight yet another freedom struggle even by taking law into our hand", warns 22-year old Nakul Insulkar, a college-going youngster. The Samiti dominated by all such youngsters is a clear indication that the struggle is taking a different turn … in a Democratic Socialist Republic.


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