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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014

Foreign settlers in dock for illegally buying land in Goa

Sanjib Kr Baruah, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, January 28, 2013
First Published: 02:47 IST(28/1/2013) | Last Updated: 02:49 IST(28/1/2013)

Signalling its zero-tolerance intent, the government has cracked down on immovable properties in Goa, such as land and houses, illegally acquired by foreign citizens and firms over the last four years.

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"We have already confiscated 12 such foreign-owned properties after imposing the due penalty," said a senior finance ministry official on the condition of anonymity. These properties-largely acquired by Russian, Israeli and British citizens-were acquired in abject violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999 regulations.

"Showcause notices were issued to 29 entities-16 against foreign individuals and 13 against companies formed by foreign nationals-that had acquired properties in Goa," the official added.

Sources told HT that the finance minister-led Economic Intelligence Council, which meets annually, will also take up the property acquisition issue by foreigners in Goa. "This will also sensitise state governments and administrative agencies, including the Reserve Bank of India, to the kind of violations that take place. Hence, appropriate action can be taken from the government's side," said an official.

Rules stipulate that foreign nationals should reside continuously in India for at least half a year to become eligible for buying property.

"They skirt the rule by roping in locals or Indian companies, who later hand over the property to foreign nationals or companies," the official said.

Of late, there have been many complaints of illegal activities being undertaken by foreigners in Goa. Besides illegal acquisition of immovable property, there have also been allegations of a strong foreign mafia presence in the state - responsible for drug-running, smuggling and prostitution rackets. Unofficial reports say about 500 foreigners have also bought agricultural land in the state.

The National Security Council has also been apprised of the developments, which allegedly have the potential to snowball into a serious issue later.

Two years ago, acting on public complaints and outcry over illegal activities by foreigners in Goa, the state government had issued an advisory aimed at foreigners and their local accomplices - cautioning against indulging in property transactions in violation of FEMA.

As an immediate measure, the government also decided to upgrade the Goa sub-zonal office of the Enforcement Directorate, which deals with such cases, to a zonal status. Once this is done, it would be headed by a joint director of enforcement.


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