Summary of notes taken at the meeting supplemented by after-meeting historical facts.
(Photos courtesy Albert Fernandes)
Special Status for Goa is being sought in India with the news that an all party representation from Goa will be made with the Central Government on the urgent need to give "Special Status For Goa" with respect to preserving its prized identity.
As many Goans abroad are unsure of what this means, a meeting was called on July 25, 2012, at Square One – Mississauga, to discuss this and other issues.
The meeting was coordinated by Mr. Eddie Rodrigues, of Toronto who spends a considerable time every year in Goa at his Calangute village.
Advocate Antonio Lobo of Mapusa, Goa, here on a family visit, was invited to address a group of over 40 Goans who came from all parts of the GTA to attend the meeting.
Adv. Antonio Lobo started by relating the history of Goa just prior to the entry of Indian troops into Goa in 1961. At the time of Goa’s accession into India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised that Goa would retain its distinct identity. Even prior to the annexation of Goa, the government of independent India had promised that the people of Goa would be consulted on any decision about their territory.
The referendum held on 16 January 1967. offered the people of Goa, Daman and Diu two options:
1. To remain a Union Territory of India. Or
To merge Goa with Maharastra; and Daman and Diu with Gujarat.
The then government of Goa held the referendum confident of winning a merger with Maharastra. There were 388,432 eligible voters. A total of 317,633 votes were polled. Three days were allotted for the counting. 54.20% voted against merger whereas 43.50% voted in favour., Goans rejected the merger with Maharashtra by a vote of 172,191 to 138,170. The anti-mergerists won by 34,021 votes. Goa survived by the skin of the teeth.
Adv. Lobo said that a movement has been formed to protect the unique identity and culture of the state and therefore its main task is to pursue the initiative of obtaining special status to Goa by getting Article 371 of the Indian Constitution amended to preserve the identity of the state, on par with the north eastern states. He said this should not be too complex a problem at all, and does not involve financial assistance. The tying together of the request for "Special Status" with special financial privileges is a step in the wrong direction and detracts from the main aspirations of the movement.
Adv. Lobo said that a wave of new settlers or migrants is being pampered in Goa by politicians to create their own vote bank which he says is a serious matter as the identity of a Goan is in peril under such a situation.
"In 1961 our population was a mere 5.8 lakh and today it is more than 1.5 million despite the fact that statistics have shown a negative trend for Goa’s birth rate. This is all because of the migrant vote bank that is being pampered today by our politicians and the voice of a true Goan is ignored," Adv. Lobo said.
Adv. Lobo added that the other factor which necessitates special status for Goa is high levels of corruption which has affected land usage in which land owners are coerced by politicians to sell their land else their land would be acquired by the government and this has in turn made land prices soar. Adv. Lobo urged Goans living overseas not to sell their land to non Goans. He said that large tracts of land have already been purchased by rich people in Delhi and Gujarat who wish to build luxury dwellings that are not meant for local Goans as they would be out their price range. He said that Goa being small and already overwhelmed, we need protection and our land should be permitted to be sold to those who are not domiciled in Goa. The Goan landlords sell their properties as a part of best bargain for their land since market forces have pushed the property prices sky high. This large influx of non Goans will totally change the face of Goa as we know it today.
Illegal mining is another issue, not only have our natural resources been destroyed but even the state coffers are not benefiting in any way.
Adv. Lobo said that "Special Status" for Goa would mean:
1. Curb the uncontrolled migration to Goa
2. Curbs on uncontrolled sale of agricultural land for commercial purpose
3. Control over the exploitation of resources including development and mining
4. Protection of cultural ethos
5. Protection of special laws of succession, marriage, divorce and others which is contained in the Common Civil Code prevailing in Goa.
Adv. Lobo said that in all these issues there was nothing related to financial assistance and therefore the central government should consider granting special status to Goa.
Adv. Lobo concluded by urging all Goans to get involved in this movement to preserve Goa for future generations.
As Adv. Lobo’s law practice deals with civil law many in the audience submitted written questions on property concerns. He answered all these questions graciously but stressed the need to understand the underlying laws and legislation which were still based on Portuguese law.
Questions on problems on visas to India, acquiring Overseas Citizenship of India were also raised. Adv. Lobo declined to answer these questions and turned them over to Messrs Eddie Rodrigues, Tim de Mello, and Cellie Gonsalves in the audience who related their own experiences. In summary patience and the submission of proper documents to support one’s Goan heritage was needed, as the Indian Government had a duty to ensure the system was not being abused.
In his concluding remarks Adv. Lobo said that a "Free for All” attitude dominated by unchecked migration, illicit money and corruption pose severe threats to the existence of Goa as a distinct entity. These
T threats are being challenged by Goans in Goa. Each and every Goan abroad needs to take positive action in support of their motherland before taking a lost cause stance.