Mario Cotta Pereira is an octogenarian, who lives in Margao. I never met him, but learnt of his 20-year-old fight with the government through court documents.
When it comes to land, most people put up a fight because land gives one a sense of belonging and is tied with our identity. The only time we might be willing to part with it is if we get a good price.
Mario’s tryst with the government started in 1964; three years after the Portuguese were ousted from Goa by the Indian military, in what is known as Liberation.
It was in that year that land was acquired to set up the 2 STC camp in Salcette. Nearly 55 families were displaced by this action and the government needed more land to accommodate them. So, it requisitioned 35,690 sq mts of land belonging to Mario.
The rate of the land was never determined from 1964 to 1991 and Mario did not receive a single paisa from the government. Then, on 19 May, 1991, a paltry sum of Rs 54,662 was offered for the land, but was never paid.
Mario made several attempts to settle the matter amicably, but the government turned a blind eye and deaf ears to his efforts. Left with no option, Mario filed a civil suit for restoration of the land without encumbrances. His argument was simple — the maximum time period for which land can be requisitioned (17 years) had lapsed.
Thus began a long fight, not necessarily the longest in Goa’s legal history, but a very determined one to regain possession of his land.
In 1999, the trial court dismissed Mario’s plea on grounds that the suit was barred by limitations and another clause in the act used to requisition the land. Mario knocked on the doors of the High Court and in 2010; the trial court order was set aside.
Then, the district judge dismissed Mario’s demand for deletion of the names of the displaced persons from the suit. He once again approached the High Court, which in 2015 set aside the order of the district judge.
This was when Mario felt the full weight of the State government and the Goa Legislative Assembly on his back.
In September 2016, the state government got a law passed in the Assembly to acquire Mario’s land at the 1964 rate of Rs 3.83 per sq mt. The stage was set for a big fight in the High Court.
It was a fight that Mario eventually won. Last month the High Court ruled that the government has to pay Mario the market rate, which is Rs 2,564 per sq mt. This essentially meant that it would have to pay him Rs 9.15 crore, instead of Rs 1.37 lakh.
This is not the end of Mario’s journey though. The government is hell-bent on not paying him his due, and in all eventuality, this case is going to the Supreme Court.
This is a case of a series of errors committed by the government from 1964 to the present. Had earlier governments resolved this issue, Mario would have been spared the ordeal and the land would have been acquired without much fuss.
But then governments, pre-colonial and post-colonial, are not exactly known for treating people as citizens. On the contrary, they prefer to treat them as subjects of medieval India.
No matter what the outcome, Mario stands out as a fighter who took on the combined forces of the government and legislative assembly and won. He succeeded only because, in India, courts continue to stand as independent bastions of hope - in a sea of corruption, nepotism and downright dishonesty.
He has our respect.