Goa politicians turn guns on Army, Navy for landgrab

Goa`s politicians across the spectrum have charged the Indian Army and the Indian Navy with grabbing government land.

Last Updated: Sep 17, 2013, 10:15 AM IST

Panaji: Goa`s politicians across the spectrum have charged the Indian Army and the Indian Navy with grabbing government land but the forces deny accusations of wrongdoing.

The latest salvo was fired at the Indian Army by Panaji Mayor Surendra Furtado, who accused the 2 Signal Training Centre (STC) of occupying 1.44 acres of prime land in the heart of the state capital.

"Prior to Goa`s liberation (in 1961), 1.22 acres land was owned by CCP, previously known as Camara Municipal de Goa. However, after Liberation this land is now in the possession of 2 Signal Training Centre, adjacent to its Panaji headquarters, which is underutilised for parking military vehicles," Furtado has said in a letter to Defence Minister AK Antony.

"The building and area which they had taken over after the Liberation belonged to the city municipality. And now, even after being given alternative land, they are still refusing to move," Furtado told a news agency.

The alternative land that Furtado refers to is an allotment a couple of decades ago by the state government to the Indian Army in Bambolim on the outskirts of the capital.

"The condition put at the time was that the land the army is sitting on in Panaji would be handed over to the city corporation," Furtado said.

It is not just the city mayor who has taken on the Indian Army on the issue.

In a stinging attack, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had said in the assembly last year: "It is easier to get the Army to vacate from Lahore, but not from even an inch of land in Panaji."

The land in Panaji is not the only bone of contention.

According to Congress MP Shantaram Naik, the Indian Navy had grabbed land which houses Goa`s only airport at Dabolim, 35 km from here.

"The Indian Navy is attacking Goa`s land resources rather than defending them," Naik said.

The state government also maintains that the Indian Navy has been illegally occupying 1,840 acres of land on which the Dabolim airport is located.

The issue of land-grabbing has been a prickly one since 1961 when Goa was liberated from Portuguese rule, thanks to India`s clinical military action. Critical installations and tracts of land captured by the Indian Army from the Portuguese forces during the action were then taken over during the state`s brief spell of military administration.

"The expansionist mode of armed forces in Goa, including the navy at Dabolim, is highly questionable," said Floriano Lobo, head of the Su-Raj regional political outfit.

Army and Navy officers say the forces are being drawn into the issue for political reasons.

"Goa is of strategic importance to the Indian armed forces considering its location on the Western coast. Some of the areas which are being mentioned in these political debates are vital installations in the strategic sense," a senior Army officer said.

A spokesperson of the Navy said the accusation that it had encroached on 1,840 acres of land near the Dabolim airport was completely false.

"After the liberation in 1961 the Indian Navy had taken over only 249 acres out of the 1,840 acres of land from the Portuguese. The rest had been legally acquired through lengthy land acquisition procedures which were completed in 1992," the naval officer said.