With a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report exposing three mega land allotment scams in touristy Goa, civil society groups say now "all the skeletons have tumbled out" of the government's closet.
"The state government has consistently lied to the people on every project where acquisition of land has been involved. They adopt a popular stance for public consumption but, as the CAG report shows, the government files speak a completely different story," Sabina Martins, convenor of the Goa Bachao Abhiyaan (GBA), told IANS.
The CAG report, tabled in the state assembly earlier this week, indicts the Goa government's land use policies, such as the controversial multimillion Dona Paula Information Technology park, the Quitol food park and the special economic zone (SEZ) projects, which the activists allege were riddled with corruption.
In these cases, the CAG report indicates that the state government tried to clandestinely hand over huge tracts of land acquired for public purposes to private developers.
"Now that the CAG has formally acknowledged this SEZ scam, we demand a full fledged criminal inquiry into land allotments by the SEZ," Goa Movement Against SEZ (GMAS) convenor Mathany Saldanah said.
"The government has nowhere to hide now. All the skeletons have finally tumbled out of the closet," he said.
In the Dona Paula IT park case, the state government had transferred 285,000 sq metres of prime real estate worth Rs 7.84 crore on the outskirts of Panaji, to the state-run Goa Info Tech Corporation for setting up a high-tech habitat for IT software and ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services) industries some years ago.
However, the CAG's scrutiny has revealed that out of the 37 applications received for allotment of plots, only 19 were from IT firms and the remaining were from real estate developers.
"Finally, allotments were made to five IT firms and nine developers," indicating that prime land intended for IT-related projects was being palmed off to real estate developers.
According to the CAG report, in one instance, a real estate developer Venkatarao Infra Projects was allotted plots without even a proper application or project report, and five developers were allotted plots by relaxing the prescribed eligibility criteria.
In the Quitol food park case, the CAG observed that the Goa Industries Development Corporation (GIDC) hastily acquired and allotted 416,000 sq metres of land to a private firm, Betul Hospitality Parks Private Limited (BHPPL), to set up residential resorts for upmarket tourists to cater to the industries that would come up in the proposed food park, for which land had not even acquired.
"The decision of the GIDC to acquire and allot land for residential resorts was a clear deviation from the policies followed by the corporation," the audit report observes, questioning the very logic behind an industrial corporation, facilitating the setting up of residential resorts.
On the SEZ issue, the CAG has indicted the GIDC for its haste in cheaply doling out 3.84 million sq metres of land to seven SEZ operators even before formulating its SEZ policy. The report also stated that land was parcelled out at irrationally cheaper rates, causing the exchequer a loss of Rs 39.47 crore.
Martins said that there was now an established pattern to the Goa government's greed for acquiring public land and doling it out to private companies.
"The CAG report picks up these three instances. What about the Goa government's recent controversial ordinance to grant immunity to encroachment on public land by a five star resort, which the Supreme Court had ordered to be demolished?" Martins asked.
He said the Goa government's policies and procedures on land acquisition were "consistently non-transparent and dubious."