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Goa: Move to Limit Foreigners Buying Land
Is it a pay-up-and-we-register-at-a-price kind of scam?
Armstrong Vaz (armie)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-21 04:10 (KST)   
This article was only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
The rainy season is in full flow in the Indian state of Goa. It is time for many foreigners on long-term visas to retreat back to their native lands to escape the rainy season. Few brave the rainy season and stay. British tourists Mike and Chrissie Shepherd though have fallen in love with Goa and have made the tourist-resort state their second home. No wonder they own two homes in Goa. But they too do want to stay in Goa for the rains.

They are fortunate that they bought property some 15 years back, many of their fellow countrymen and women are not. A large chunk of the English tourists who bought property in Goa face the threat of having it confiscated for not following the property laws. And on top of that, the state government has put a stop to foreigners registering purchases or sales of property; as a result, registrars are not registering land deals from foreigners.

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If the 438 cases forwarded to the Enforcement Directorate under the 1999 Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) for violations are any indication, some people are hell-bent on protecting the big sharks at the cost of the small fish.

Under FEMA, foreigners can buy property as long as they are "resident" in the country for 182 days in the financial year before they buy. Further, foreigners who come on business visas are entitled to purchase properties in the name of Indian companies. Such foreigners have to follow the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines. Besides, persons of Indian origin (PIOs) can also buy properties other than agricultural properties and plantations.

And if going by newspaper reports in Herald, the Goan newspaper, it seems elected representatives are fishing in some muddy waters.

But something is amiss in the government's plans to take action against foreign buyers. The government is holding back crucial information on a large properties buy involving some 18 Russian companies, which smacks of some sinister design to protect the interests of these Russian land sharks.

"Wonder what the motives of the politicians are? Can we believe they [politicians] care about long-term Goa's interest? They just must be having a parallel racket of their own. Some pay-up-and-we-register-at-a-price kind of scam," said Wilson Coutinho, a Goan.

"Why have we all been placed in the same boat as the drug dealers, half-naked women and general nuisances in the eyes of Goan people? Most of the people who revisit Goa year after year are like us, in the late 50s and above, and to assume that we are all drug dealers and money launderers is quite ludicrous. All the problems with property buying cannot be blamed just on the tourists as the foundations for all these developments were laid under the government's nose without any objection," said an English tourist in a letter to the editor in Herald.

"We have been visiting Goa for the last five years. We dearly wish to own our property and re-visit Goa year after year, but does anyone really want us here," he wondered.

Chrissie and Mike are responsible tourists who care about nature and have maintained their old village-style tile-roofed house in Cuncolim village and the second one they have in Kanaguinuim.

And they are the only ones concerned about Goa and its environment.

Susan Casey from Yorkshire, England, said: "I urge you, take action before it is too late. We have to act fast. The very reason that people began to flock to Goa was due to its incredible display of natural beauty in all its varied and diverse forms along with the wonderful susegad [laid-back] lifestyle. Once the natural beauty has expired due to degradation caused by the ever-increasing demands of the tourism industry the tourists themselves would never return. This may sound over the top and melodramatic."

She then points out the damage done to the environment through irresponsible tourism.

"On a biodiversity point, species face a massive decline due to the influence of over and irresponsible tourism with its destruction and fragmentation of important habitat sites, excess garbage contaminating ground water and killing marine and terrestrial species, and wasteful energy consumption."

And she warns that the future could be bleak with Goa having well exceeded its carrying capacity.

"Goa has well and truly exceeded its carrying capacity and without careful reconsideration of how to build its future the future could look very bleak indeed. It is up to us all to provide safe and protected areas for all species to thrive. The beaches, forests and hills which are now affected were for thousands of years home to other species other than man himself. We should all respect this fact and help in this plight to provide protection at every level," Casey said.

Goa certainly needs to clear the air, but one thing is certain: the amount of uncertainty created in the minds of the small-budget tourists who have regularly visiting Goa.

But will the government sing to the tune of the smaller budget tourists or the big land sharks? That question will best be answered by the pie hungry Goan politicians.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Armstrong Vaz

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