Mayem (Goa): Even 50 years after liberation from Portuguese rule, the shadow of colonialism still looms over this little village in Goa about 30 km from state capital Panaji.
The ownership of over 3,770 hectares of prime land, much of it sitting on iron ore deposits, is in limbo thanks to decades of wrangling over the property between the government, the legal heirs of the original Portuguese owners and the villagers living on the land.
The government had declared the area "evacuee property" in the 1960s, citing that the legal heirs of the owners had left Goa and were Portuguese citizens. The property was thus given the evacuee tag and entrusted to a custodian appointed by the government.
The property in Mayem earlier belonged to D Jose Joaquim Noronha, who was given the title Conde de Maem (Count of Mayem) and the property declared the Condado de Maem (Countship of Mayem).
Over the years during the Portuguese era, the original owners had leased out part of their land to reformed prisoners, who then become residents of the land. Subsequently, in addition to those who were already staying there, several others built illegal structures on the land and today claim to be residents, tenants and the like "for generations".
In 2011, the state government-appointed Law Commission proposed a solution to the problem, which has vexed generations of legal experts and politicians, by asking the government to acquire the land and parcel it out to those who stay there.
"We had suggested that the state abolish the title and proprietorship rights of the Count, become the owner of the land and prepare a scheme for to allot it to the villagers under the Town and Country Planning Act," former Law Commission chairman and former union minister of state for law Ramakant Khalap told IANS.
A draft bill on this had also been submitted to the government, which was not acted upon by the then chief minister Digambar Kamat and the problem continued to linger.
The move had been welcomed by the villagers, who have bandied under the Mayem Bhoo Vimochan Nagrik Kruti Samitee and had demanded that the government expedite the Law Commission`s proposal and move a bill called the Condado de Maem (Abolition of Title and Proprietorship of Lands in Mayem) Bill 2011 with certain changes as urged by them.
The leaders of the agitation have been propagating the view that they are still under the "bondage" of Portuguese decisions and laws since they have no rights to their own land.
"For us, it is like still living in the Portuguese era. We have been living on the land for generations but we do not own the land. If we want electricity and water connections, we cannot get permissions easily. We cannot even sell the land if we want to because the ownership is not in our name," Kashinath Mayenkar, one of the leaders of the group and a longtime resident of Mayem said.
There are around 895 structures, 34 temples and 15 schools located on the disputed property.
A claimant to the property and title, Antonio S.C. Pereira, has now says that the proposed law, if legal, should not be applied only to Mayem but to entire state of Goa wherever there are evacuee properties.
"If any such proposal is made specifically for Mayem, the same law should also be made applicable to Poriem, Sattari, Pernem and other talukas in Goa," Pereira, an Indian national, said in a statement.