There is something about the Comunidade system of community ownership of land that is inspiring and romantic. It is almost like the kibbutz in Israel, the first of which was organised in 1910. No one really knows when the Comunidades started, but we do know that it is an extension of the ancient Gaunkari system.
While the Portuguese were largely enamoured by this system, they were not comfortable with ownership of land being vested in the community. For them, ownership of the land should be vested with the King who can then dish it out to favourites as and when he chose. And so started the gradual takeover of the Gaunkari system.
The idea then, was community ownership of land for agriculture. All that has changed, though. At the time of liberation, agriculture contributed 35 per cent to the GDP of the state. Today, it is a meagre three per cent. This obviously means the nature of Comunidades has also changed.
With land prices at a ridiculous high, all eyes, especially the government, fell on the large tracts of land in the custody of Comunidades.
Recently, the government passed a law which brought eight amendments to the Code of Comunidades. Incidentally, the Code, which was made law a few months before the Liberation of Goa is still in force and has over 650 Articles. In contrast, the Constitution of India has about 400 Articles. That is how complex and complicated running a Comunidade really is. Of the amendments, three in particular, kicked up a row.
The first was the power to dismiss an elected committee and replace it with a government official, the second was the introduction of a new Article which would allow the government to take over land, with the consent of the Comunidade, for public purposes and the third was a change that would allow Comunidades to hire private agencies to develop the land for the purpose of making plots.
While the amendment to dismiss a committee seemed ominous, in reality, it was not. That is because the amendment would come into play only if two consecutive sittings of the committee were not held.
This means if the committee held all its meetings the government would never be able to dismiss it. The second one, which allowed the government to take over land for public purposes, was essentially an attempt to bypass the more stringent land acquisition act.
Legally speaking, Comunidades are treated as private bodies, so taking away land without applying the land acquisition act seems grossly unfair and patently illegal. Since the issue of compensation was not mentioned, naturally, this raised suspicions. A legal challenge to this amendment would set the record straight, perhaps.
The third one about allowing private agencies to develop plots shows that the nature of Comunidades has changed from agriculture to housing and construction, even though members of Comunidades do not want to admit this. Why? Because for some reason, building and construction are viewed as something bad and undesirable, even though real estate is a legitimate industry and we all look for better houses and apartments once the debate on ‘saving Goa from builders’ is done and dusted. It seems two-faced, but that’s the way it is in Goa.