A Journalist struggles to save agricultural land in India
Navelim village like all villages of Goa, in the Western state of India, is witnessing a building boom, which is pushing the demand for land for constructions. The demand for land has been met with people selling their agriculture land to builders.
Agriculture is increasingly becoming a non-profitable venture.
The village situated on the outskirts of Margao city and six kilometers from the more famous Colva beach has been witnessing a flurry of construction activity in last ten years. The demand for housing in Goan cities has been increasing with every passing year, fuelling search for new land to construct apartments.
But one individual has managed to wag a lonely struggle in the mist of the rapid changes to save his paddy fields and carry on against all odds, his pet hobby- agriculture.
Yes, a vernacular newspaper journalist Vithal Sukdkar has been over the years been successful in warding off the land sharks and government from taking over his paddy field for development.
For Sukhdkar in the fast changing Goa landscape, he has been fighting to cling on to his 2000 square metres of agricultural land in the heart of Navelim and on the outskirts of Margao city and continues to grow paddy rice, once in a year.
Goa, which is a beach side hub is frequented by hordes of foreign tourists every year. Teh state is also home
to some 7000 odd foreigners who have bought properties here. The buying of properties by foreigners and Indians from other states have sky-rocketed the prices of apartments and land in the state in the last couple of years.
With every inch of barren land and even cultivated land being eyed by the land sharks and by government for development, the pressure on land has reached a saturation point.
The Sukhdkar family has been tilling the land for the last several decades and continues to do. The family carry on in spite of the fact that the neigbouring paddy fields remained barren and most of them have been sold to builders.
Situated behind the 15th century built Navelim church, the paddy field is located in the mist of a building boom which the suburbs of Margao have witnessed in the last ten years.
"Ten years back there were no houses or the high rise buildings", says Vithal pointing out to the single bedroom and double bedroom flats which have come across the road to the south of his paddy field.
And more constructions are in the pipeline, with two more builders having lined up their construction material for new apartments.
"These were all paddy fields which were cultivated some fifteen years back but one by one, farmers gave up on cultivating the land and then sold the land to the builders", he says pointing out to the five-storey buildings.
"The school buildings which is on the north was the only one which was existing since our childhood days", the former Dempo Engineering Sports Club football player says. (Now defunct first division club from Goa).
The Sukhdar family who originally hails from Virdi a place in Sanquelim of Bicholim Taluka of North Goa, became owners of the property under the Mundkar law - wherein tenants cultivating paddy became owners of the land after paying the requisite fees as decided by the Mamtaldar of the Taluka.
From the practical point of view the family faced hardships in the form of labour and the ever increasing rates of Goan labourers which made the family think twice on continuing with farming over the years, some ten years back.
But the both men and women folk worked in the fields to make it an economic proposition for the family and carried on gamely to overcome the hardships.
In recent years, Vithal and his brothers supervise, as a hired tractor from the Government Agriculture Department ploughs through the paddy field, while in the summer month of May this year, Vithal has dug a well to reap the benefits of the second crop of the season.
Incidentally the state government's Selaulim Canal Water Supply Scheme to the paddy fields has reached some of the interior villages of South Goa but Margao paddy fields are parched for lack of it.
Recalling his constant struggle to save his paddy field, he recalls that government wanted to acquire it for different purposes at different points of time and it was eyed by Member's of the Legislative Assembly (MLA's) representing Navelim and also by the MLA representing neigbouring Margao constituency for different projects at different times.
"They wanted to acquire it to build a power station, then some wanted to acquire part of our property for construction of a football ground," Vithal says.
But here his journalistic profession and support from his journalist friends saw the elected representatives remaining off limits from the paddy field.
On the paddy field stands a farm house which the eligible bachelor constructed some five years back. For construction license he had to slog for five years before he got permission. The panchayat (the local governing body of the village), the SGPDA (South Goa planning and development authority) , all dragged their feet on his file.
The two bodies from which permission is needed to construct or build any house.
Vithal went strictly by the rule books and that's what infuriated the Panchayat body members. But finally he got the permission after a long struggle. Till then Vithal and his family work towards protecting their paddy fields from stray cattle and pigs intruding and destroying their crop just like they had kept away the government and land sharks at bay for the last two decades.
The journalist, agriculturist, and former footballer has one more passion - making short films and to write scripts for films. Although he has one short konkani film Sorik (matchmaker), in the local language to his credit aired by Goa Doordarshan some ten years back, he did not venture into more of that.
Incidentally the writer and producer of the short film Sorik is himself a bachelor and is waiting for a proposal to come his way and tie the knot.