CONFESSION OF CHURCH IN VANXIM!!

VANXIM: Vanxim island is tiny next to its big neighbour, the island of Divar. Because of its tiny size and relative inaccessibility, it remained undeveloped and out of the public eye for years while the beach belt of Calangute, Baga and later Candolim, were the focus of investors. However, with developers looking for undeveloped areas to build ‘get-aways’ for rich visitors tired of civilization, Vanxim is a gold mine

The Church has admitted that it sold all the land belonging to the Santa Monica convent to Mahendra Gaunekar who in turned sold it to the developer who is converting it into an eco-tourism resort. The Church issued a clarification that appeared in its magazine Renovação (Renewal) explaining the context behind the sale and clarifying that encumbered land was not sold, but transferred with all encumbrances

IN THE past few weeks there have been a number of confusing and controversial statements in the print and electronic media regarding the sale of land at Vanxim, carried out by the Archdiocese.

Though the Diocesan Centre for Social Communications media, had issued a clarification regarding the said sale of land in the year 2010, a renewed spurt of misinformation is being is being circulated by some individuals, which calls for a more detailed response from the church. The Archdiocese of Goa and Daman would therefore like to bring to the notice of all, the details of the process followed in the above mentioned deal.

The Santa Monica Fund  of Archdiocese of Goa and Daman owned a property at Vanxim (Capao Village) of Sao Mathais Panchayat, admeasuring a total of 5,83,592 sq mts. It consisted of (1) encumbered, (2) unencumbered and (3) residential areas. The encumbered area admeasured a total of 3,00,275 sq mtr. This was chiefly an agricultural property (paddy fields before 1970) which had not been cultivated for decades due to inundations. The unencumbered area was 1,85,125 sq mts, while the residential area admeasured 98,192 sq mts. An area of around 1,43,050 sq mts, in the same island belongs to other private owners.

Alienation Factors

FROM 1992 onwards the Archdiocese had been receiving requests from various individuals and companies to sell certain portion of the encumbered and unencumbered land at Vanxim. Owing to these requests, the Archdiocese authorities had sought the opinion and valuation from competent and knowledgeable individuals. These opined that such applications requesting the purchase of only a part of the property should not be entertained, because of the peculiarity of the situation in Vanxim. They added that, if at all the Archdiocese decided in future to consider any such applications, it would have to be for entire property, and not for its parts. They also suggested that land should not be sold for less than `10 per sq mtr. The maximum offer that came up around that time was `4 per sq mtr for unusable land and `6 per sq mtr for usable land. The Archdiocesan authorities rejected these requests.

`6 land for 35 paise!

PROTESTS: Protests by villagers, led by priest-turned activist Bismarque Dias held up the Ozone Group project since 2010. However the Investment Promotion Board (IPB) cleared the eco-tourism project proposed by Ozone Group little more than a month after the mysterious death of Fr Bismarque. (Photo of protest in November 2010 courtesy JoeGoaUK)

MEANWHILE in the year 1995, some members of the “Tenants Association of Vanxim” moved a petition before the Mamladar for the purchase of the encumbered land that they claimed to cultivate. In the month of July of the same year, the Mamladar passed an order under section 18A read with 18C (5) and 18D of Goa Daman and Diu Agriculture Tenancy Act of 1964, stating that the purchase price for the tenants would be 35 paise per sq mt and that the tenants would be free to purchase the land as per the rate fixed by the Mamlatdar.

The Archdiocese authorities on receiving the pertinent notice from the Mamlatdar requested him to dismiss the petition made by these so called tenants for the purchase of the land Vanxim. The said letter clearly stated that the land belonged to the Archdiocese and that it was not cultivated for several years as it was not suitable for cultivation. It was argued that as per law if the tenant does not cultivate the land for a period of 3 years, the tenant would automatically lose his tenancy right over the said land and that the land would revert back to its owner, ie, the Archdiocese — a Religious Charitable Institution.

The Mamlatdar however passed orders contrary to what was requested by the Archdiocese and intimated the Archdiocese (vide letter dated 16/07/1996) to collect the purchase price which would be deposited at the Mamladar’s office by the tenants of Vanxim. The office of the procurator of the Archdiocese refused to accept this letter. Since above mentioned letter was not accepted. The office of the Mamlatdar wrote another two letters dates 22/07/1996 and 15/10/1996 asking the office of the procurator to collect the demand drafts which were drawn in favour of “Santa Monica” and stating that the same would have to be collected and encased before the expiry of their validity failing which all the amount deposited by the tenants would be credited in the government treasury.

OTHER PROPOSALS

IN January 1996 a company based in Mumbai sent in an application dated 16/01/1996 for the purchase of land Vanxim informing that they had held several meetings with the people claiming to be the tenants in the said property. They made an offer of `5 per sq mte for the encumbered area and `10 per sq for the unencumbered area.

There was also another proposal from a Goan form, dated 15/06/1996 enclosing a copy of an NOC from the Tenants Association of Vanxim, dated 26-02-1996. There were also other parties that approached the Archdiocese, offering to buy properties in the island of Vanxim and who disclosed that they were already in contact with the “tenants”.

It is important to note that every party that was approaching the Archdiocese to buy land at Vanxim would first enter into an understanding with the tenants since their names had been entered in the survey  record (Form I & XIV). It became known that the tenants themselves were trying to strike the best deal with the prospective buyers.

Before taking into consideration these various offers, the Archdiocesan authorities sought an opinion from an expert in the legal field, as the matter in question involved encumbered land. A detailed and elaborate legal advice was received. The legal expert opined that the tenanted land could not be sold but instead a Deed of Transfer and Assignment of Rights could be executed whereby the interested party would have to deal with those whose names appeared on the tenant column of Form I and XIV. He would have to get the necessary changes done on the survey records  following due procedure and the price of the encumbered land would have to be apportioned by the tenants column in the survey record.

The above proposal was discussed in the Diocesan Finance Committee. The then Procurator of the Archdiocese was authorised to negotiate the sale of the land, based on an appropriate valuation.

The norms of the Church state when the alienation value exceeds the maximum amount established by the Episcopal Conference(

GAUNEKAR’S OFFER

AT this juncture a new application was received from one Mr Mahendra Gaunekar. He made an offer to the

FORGOTTEN LAND: Currently, there are two ferry boats that link people of Diwar, to
Ribander and Old Goa. Residents of Vanxim on the other hand, first take a ferry to Diwar
and from there another to reach Ribandar or Old Goa. (Photo of old Vanxim jetty near
Vanxim Church courtesy JoeGoaUK)

Archdiocese for the purchase of the entire property. Knowing the actual situation that a part of the property was encumbered, he agreed to purchase the same at his own risk assuring that he would take care of and settle those who were recorded as tenants.

His proposal was again discussed in various committees which recommended a Deed of Transfer and Assignment of Rights for the encumbered land at the rate of `6 per sq mt and Deed of Sale for the unencumbered land at the rate of `20 per sq mtr. The said Mr Gaunekar agreed to buy the unencumbered land for `20 per sq mt and as far as the encumbered land was concerned, he said he would discuss with the tenants the modalities to acquire the encumbered land. After long discussions with the so called tenants he agreed to buy the encumbered land too. Mr Gaunekar was clearly informed that the encumbered land would not be sold to him, but instead only a Deed of Transfer and Assignment of rights would be executed.

Thereafter an Agreement of Sale was executed between the Archdiocese and Mt Mahendra Gaunekar on 9-4-1999. Subsequently (1) a Deed of Sale dated 11-2-20016 was registered before the Panjim Sub-Registrar at serial no- 414, for an un-encumbered area admeasuring 1,85,125 for a total consideration of  `37,02,500/- and (2) a Deed of Transfer and Assignment of Rights registered before the Sub-Registrar at Serial no- 417 dated 11/02/2006 for an encumbered area admeasuring 3,00,275 sq mts or a total consideration of `18,01,650/-.

It is being alleged in the media reports and social media postings that the property we sold at a very low price, It is to be noted that Mr Mahendra Gaunekar’s offer was at the time higher than the ones received earlier and it corresponded with the valuers rate.

After the execution of the Deed of Sale and the Deed of Transfer and Assignment of Rights, the said Mr Gaunekar once again approached the Archdiocese with an offer to purchase the remaining residential area, vide his letter dated 15/10/2009. The archdiocese refused his offer and did not entertain his request.

The Archdiocese also stopped selling land to interested residents of Vanxim, because it was reported that some residents who had bought land from the Archdiocese were selling it to Mr Gaunekar. To understand this complex issue one need to keep in mind that about 80 per cent of the so-called tenants had already committed themselves to surrender their rights to the interested buyers even before the Archdiocese could come into any formal agreement with the concerned.

Procedure of sale

THERE have been allegations that the Archdiocese had flouted the norms of the Canon law while alienating its properties in Vanxim. The norms of the Church state when the alienation value exceeds the maximum amount established by the Episcopal Conference (the Catholic Bishops conference of India) which was at that time `10 lakhs, the Diocesan Bishop, acting with the consent of the finance committee, the college of consulters, and any interested parties, needs the permission of the Holy See (Pope)

As after proper valuation the value of the property was estimated to be more than `10 lakhs, all the above requirements of the canon law were  observed — namely the valuation of the property was obtained and discussed with the Diocesan consulters which recommended the alienation, keeping in mind the aforementioned N.O.C. of the so-called tenants. The petition was then sent to the Holy See which granted permission for the requested alienation (vide letter prot no 1466/97 dated 8-4-1997)

It is painful to see that some members of the Catholic community itself are engaged in fanning the fire of distrust and anger and even the public condemnation of the Church authorities without appropriate investigation of the ground reality. It is also regrettable that some reports that appear in the media give undue stress to what just a few people try to project, without taking pains to investigate what the facts of the matter are. The factual data of the land of Vanxim and the situation during those times need to be viewed in the context of that time. Twenty years ago concepts like eco-tourism and conservation of the environment were quite alien to our people. In addition to this the fields in Vanxim were flooded for most part of the year as those responsible to protect the bunds did not maintain them adequately. Besides the Church was also not getting any revenue from the land.

It would be interesting to investigate and report on how many of the original so-called tenants were and are interested in cultivating the fields. More importantly it would be pertinent to know what the great majority of the people residing in Vanxim really want for the genuine development of their village.

Last, but not the least, one would do well to find out what kind of characters are behind the websites, blogs and posts that are spreading the venom of distrust against the Church, and where their allegiances and loyalties are placed. It is difficult to believe that they are members of the Roman Catholic Church.

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