The Robin Hood Government
Once, there lived a man called Xavier Rodrigues and his wife Remiza , in a little village called Cortalim, in a little state called Goa, in Portuguese India. They toiled each day to provide for their 8 children in their little paint factory. Xavier was semi- literate, while Remiza was illiterate. Yet, both were intelligent entrepreneurs. They managed to get their 5 daughters married off, and educated their 2 sons, as tradition would have it, then. Despite all their obligations, Xavier managed to purchase 3 modest properties. They grew rice, coconuts, cashew, mangoes and other fruit trees on them, to sustain the family and sold the excess.
Life was difficult in Goa, especially during the Second World War and many of the male children opted to leave Goa to work in Bombay or abroad. Xavier’s sons Manuel and Miguel, matriculated in English and travelled to Nairobi, Kenya and got jobs. They sent some of their earnings back home to support the family, and to pay off the debt on the properties. Being males, they were both to be the sole heirs of the properties.
In the meantime, Xavier, a good humoured and kind man, was brow beaten, by a bull-cart owner, Babuso, whom he used to hire, into allowing him to build a temporary structure on one of his properties. In turn, Babuso, volunteered to look after the property. Babuso lived there with his wife, 3 sons and numerous daughters.
In 1947, Xavier passed away after a long illness, leaving his widow to run the business. Despite her lack of education, she was well aware of the prevailing laws, so in 1952, Remiza decided to hand over the care- taker-ship to another person, who was not living on the property. Allowing Babuso, to continue living on there, but not allowing him to do any subsistence farming. This continued even after Remiza passed away, in 1968.
By the time the properties were partitioned between the 2 sons, Manuel and Miguel, the Indian government, which had liberated Goa from the Portuguese in 1961, had legislated that a portion of land, consisting of 300 square metres, inclusive of the dwelling house, had to be mandatorily given to the “feudal tenant” (mundkar). So the 2 son got the land, less the 300 square metres.
The law stated that people like Babuso had to apply to court, to be declared a “Mundkar” (feudal tenant), and had to prove to the court that he was looking after the property, and working for the landlord-which coincidentally was easy, because the neighbourscoluded to lie for each other to get free land– The landlords in turn, had a right to refute the evidence. If the court decided in favour of Babuso, then his name would be put in a register with details of the property and of the landlords. Thereafter Babuso would have to apply to purchase the dwelling house and the land. A very minimal price was fixed, in accordance with the prevailing government market value, that is, $257/-. It was less than a dollar per square metre. That too, he would be allowed to pay by 10 instalments. The same rate is used to date, despite the escalation of the market prices, which is $64,250/-. Thereafter, the land would be transferred to him. Alternatively, he could choose not to purchase the house and would continue to live there for free. He could even renovate the house without the consent of the landlord. The other kicker is, that Babuso’s heirs were entitled to the same rights as him, provided they continued to stay in the house.
When Manuel and Miguel inherited the properties, they did not ask Babuso or his family to look after the properties. Babuso continued his bull- cart business until he became blind, and he died in 1974, never having applied to be declared a “feudal tenant”. His 3 sons worked independently, one, Dinakar, was a driver; Guresh worked for a factory and the third, Gurudas, own a kiosk near the ferry stand. They did not depend on the land. They earned enough to be able to renovate their house, and make it 5 times bigger
As time went by, the 3 brothers and their families began to have their internal disputes. The fighting was so unbearable, that Guresh and his family left the house. Dinakar became an alcoholic, and one day left the house, never to be seen again. He left his childless wife behind. Gurudas and his family, in all their “great wisdom”, decided to gang up and attack her one night. They beat her, and dragged her to the well, with the intent to drawn her, but the neighbours intervened. She fled for her life, and never returned to the house. Gurudas and his family were sure that they would get the house for themselves. Especially, since Miguel lived in Kenya with his family and the land was practically unmanned, they took advantage and began to misuse the property.
Unfortunately, after working so hard as an accountant, Miguel suffered from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 77, and the family could not travel to Goa for 9 years, due to financial constraint. This gave Gurudas the opportunity to try to scheme and take advantage of Miguel’s absence, to get more than the 300 square metres by illegally cultivating on the rest of the property. There is a Tenancy and Tillers Act, in India which states that if a tenant is allowed to till the land for his subsistence, then he is entitled to all the land that he is tilling on, at a very minimal price as stated before.
Numerous people have taken advantage of this law, by seeking out land that has been fallow for years, and they know that the landlord is absent, they move in and cultivate the same, then claim the land under the Act. In other cases, landlords lease out the land to people who will take care of the property in their absence, allowing them to pluck and sell the coconuts or fruits on the land. If the lease extends to more than 10 years, the Lessee can claim rights over the property. The party pays people to lie in court for him. in many cases the landlord feels he has no choice but to settle by giving up half his property. It is legal stealing.
Miguel passed away in 2007 at the age of 82, and his widow, Antonia went to Goa in 2010. Knowing that she was unaware of the laws in India, Guru and his wife kept insisting that she should sign over the 300 square metres to them. They hinted that they were entitled to the front portion of the property abutting their house, as well, because they had grown their trees on it. Antonia refused to give in.
In 2012, Antonia proceeded to have the 300 square metres surveyed and demarcated, but Guru refused it, claiming that he was entitled to the front portion as well. He alleged that he had already registered is name as a Mundkar (feudal tenant). Investigation proved that he was not registered at all, Therefore, he had not rights. Yet, Antonia insisted that a boundary wall should be built around the 300 square metres demarcated, and the ownership could be dealt with later. Without a boundary wall Gurudas and his family would continue to access the remaining property.
Most landlords prefer to settle the matter, rather than go through a protracted and cost litigation. Which means paying the “tenant “a huge amount of money to move out; – the “feudal tenants” ask for the prevailing market rates- or just give them the land.
The “Mundkar’s Protection From Eviction Act” was relevant to the generation of tenants who were on the land during the Portuguese rule. But the courts seem to have interpreted the law to allow all the generations after that, to apply. The law was to protect the tenant who depended on that piece of land for their subsistence and security, without which they would not survive. The generations after that have had opportunities of education and earning in the job market. They are a generation who now take advantage of a loop hole to be able to acquire free land. Gurudas des not depend on the land for sustenance. 4 of his children, having finished school, have various jobs, and theysupport their father, who is too old to work. The Government seem to encourage frauds by retaining this obnoxious law.
The Government should also protect the rights of the owner, instead of considering them as enemies of the poor . They need to stop the Robin Hood behaviour of taking from the “rich “and giving to the “poor”. Either the Government should give the poor land it owns, or adequately and fairly compensate the private owner, if they insist that people like Gurudas deserves their land. The “Mundkar’s Protection From Eviction Act ” need to have a time limit, failing which innocent people like Xavier and his heirs have to suffer irreparable loss. This law is biased against the landlord, contrary to the principle that all man should be equal before the law.
Today, the grandchildren of Xavier and those of Babuso are fighting over the 300 square metres. After the 300 square metres are released, only 300 square metres are left for the 4 heirs of Miguel. What did Xavier work so hard for? So that the government would take it away from his family 2 generations later, and give it to people who did not work for it, for practically free! Where is the justice in this!
As President Gerald Ford said, “A Government big enough to give you everything you want is a Government big enough to take away everything you have”