ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Democratic Management of Common Property in Goa

Common property was controlled and regulated by a highly endemic, localised, semi-autonomous institution called the 'gaonkaria' in Goa. In the colonial period, this institution was considerably overhauled by the Portuguese who rechristened it as 'communidade'. Communidades were internally modified to direct the agrarian surplus to the Portuguese but after liberation both national and state governments neglected and superseded these rural institutions by modern ones, resulting in their degeneration. An attempt is made here to propose some alternatives by which the communidades can be revived and if possible be replaced with gram sabhas

Democratic Management of Common Property in Goa

From ‘Gaonkarias’ and ‘Communidades’ to Gram Sabhas

Common property was controlled and regulated by a highly endemic, localised, semi-autonomous institution called the ‘gaonkaria’ in Goa. In the colonial period, this institution was considerably overhauled by the Portuguese who rechristened it as ‘communidade’. Communidades were internally modified to direct the agrarian surplus to the Portuguese but after liberation both national and state governments neglected and superseded these rural institutions by modern ones, resulting in their degeneration. An attempt is made here to propose some alternatives by which the communidades can be revived and if possible be replaced with gram sabhas.


ince time immemorial, common property resources (CPR) have contributed to the growth of village economies. A scan of the history of Goa indicates that powerful tribes and sections of society settled down in places where land was easily available and tried to control this precious resource for their exclusive use. This ‘exclusiveness’ resulted in a conflict, and subsequent marginalisation of certain sections of society.

In this article, an attempt is made to understand the nature of common property in Goa and the geographical zone in which it was concentrated. The common property was controlled and regulated by a highly endemic, localised, semi-autonomous institution called the ‘gaonkaria’. The gaonkaria had a specific nature that was considerably overhauled by the Portuguese who systematically introduced periodic changes into its functioning and rechristened it as ‘communidade’. The latter was internally modified so as to direct the agrarian surplus to the Portuguese. After liberation, the national and later the state government neglected and superseded this rural institution by modern ones. This resulted in the degeneration of the communidades. Here, an attempt is made to propose some alternatives by which these institutions can be revived and if possible be replaced by gram sabhas. The past is reflected in the present and it is essential to understand the continuum between the two. The research findings are based on archival sources, contemporary works, reports and other secondary works.

Concept of CPRs: Accessibility versus Ownership

CPRs have attracted academic interest particularly after the publication of the proceedings of the conference of CPRs in 1986 and the formation of the international association for the study of CPRs. The thrust of their argument was that the local community could manage resources effectively as they undertook collective action [Wade 1987; Demsetz 1967; NRC 1986]. Property in this case refers to land and is either private property, where the individual or corporate has an exclusive possession; common property, where the possession is shared; state property, where the state controls and directs its use; and open access, where the possession is de facto by use rather than by right. A CPR is defined as “a resource that is accessible to the whole village, to which no individual has an exclusive right” [Jodha 1986; McKean 1992]. According to Blaikie and Brookfield (1987), it refers to a ‘facility’ that is distinguished by individual use rather than individual possession, a number of users who constitute a collectivity and have an independent right to use a resource and to exclude others who are not members of that collectivity. CPRs are:

  • Resource units that are bound by well defined physical, biological and social parameters.
  • A well-delineated group of users who are distinct from the persons excluded from the use of a resource.
  • Multiple users who are involved in the extraction of a resource.
  • Explicit and implicit, well understood rules that exist among the users regarding their rights and duties about resource extraction.
  • Users who are jointly entitled to the site or fugitive resources prior to its capture or use.
  • Users who compete for the resource and thereby impose negative externalities on one another.
  • A well-delineated group of right holders who may not coincide with the group of users.
  • When one deals with CPRs, it is essential to note that here the use of land is regulated by rules and access is restricted to the members’ community, unlike open access where there is an absence of any regulations that govern the use of resources. Nobody is accountable for their overuse and there is an absence of obligations on users for their long-term maintenance. Here, the CPR relates mainly to land that had a series of indivisible and enforceable claims were sanctified by rituals. The beneficiaries were privy to the system and had no access to alternate or remunerative income earning opportunities [Bromley 1992].

    The community management of CPRs existed in large parts of the country. D D Kosambi (1956) argues that during ancient times, land was held in common and production was intended to fulfil the immediate needs of households. There was no question of a territorial unit as dynasties rose and fell and frontiers changed from time to time. The agrarian system was characterised by multiple and simultaneous claims on the land; the customary claims of villagers, conditional claims of the intermediaries and the superior claims of the sovereign. The life of the rural peasantry was unaffected by periodic changes in ruling dynasties as they were locally governed by unwritten codes and functioned as small republics. The question of ‘who owns the land’ could not be answered as power structures and relations in arable lands were never the same. Land was an aggregate that was held in common and every peasant had the right to cultivate the land that belonged to his ancestors. The sovereigns were never interested in asserting their suzerainty over the land per se but were keen on getting a share of the agrarian produce. This share was then deposited in the common pool and was used to defray some of the common expenses of the village. But, the common property regimes cannot be understood within a standard theoretical construct as no single form of property existed all over the world [Shelvankar 1961; Altekar 1927; Powell 1960; Bandyopadhyay 1993]. The gaonkaria in Goa was a typical micro level, socio-economic system that managed the CPRs.

    Some Characteristics of Goa

    The state of Goa is located midway on the west coast of India within 14º 53' 54" N and 14º 47' 57" N latitudes and 73º 40' 54"E and 74º 20' 11" E longitudes. Ensconced on the slopes of the Western Ghats to the east and lapped by the Arabian Sea in the west, Goa has an area admeasuring 37.01 sq kilometres. The geomorphology of Goa is made up of marine, fluvial and etch landforms in the coastal plains. Physiographically, Goa is divided into the eastern Sahyadris, the central uplands and the western coastal plains that are formed by the constructional landscape of the Arabian Sea.

    Since we are focusing on the gaonkarias, we will restrict this study to the coastal belt. Here, 92.5 per cent of the land is under paddy cultivation. Rice is grown in the fertile ‘khazans’ (46.2 per cent), ‘morod’ (4.2 per cent), ‘ker’ (40.7 per cent) and in the high forest encircled ‘kumeri’ land [Kamat 1990; Gune 1979].

    The etymology of it indicates that Goa had a rich agrarian and pastoral set-up. The origin of Goa is associated with the Parashurama legend. This legend beautifully summarises the geomorphologic formation of an ecosystem that is unique to Goa. Following the Aryanisation of Goa, the original inhabitants were pushed away from the mainstream. The kunbis and gaudis sustained themselves on resources found on periphery of the village, occasionally cultivating the land that belonged to the dominant usurpers [Kamar 1999]. Hence, there is a close link between the social sub-groups and geographical parameters of the land. The latter was determined by access to CPRs which was the only means of sustenance for these marginalised sub-groups. Each of these had a distinct life of their own and users rarely competed with each other for resources as they were abundant and access was open.

    Quasi-Democratic Management of Land in pre-Portuguese Goa

    The locals were unaffected by political vicissitudes though management patterns changed over a period of time. There are studies about how the rural poor commonly accessed and shared common resources. In Goa, the gaonkaria was a self-sufficient, quasi-autonomous village community that was formed by descendants of the original settlers (‘gaonkars’) of a village (‘gaon’).

    Everything, from ploughing to distribution and deficit was regulated on a cooperative basis. The reclamation and development of the fertile ‘khazan’ land was entrusted to a group (‘bous’). This resulted in the creation of a regional agro-based society, where the cultivation and administration of village land was undertaken by a cooperative of coparcenaries called the ‘gaonponn’ (council of village representatives). Each councillor represented a clan (‘vangod’) that existed at the time of the formation of the council. The size of the village council varied according to the number of the clans. The meeting of the Council was held at a ‘chaudi’ (central place in the village). They had their own set of rules and regulations (‘mandavoli’). Each councillor had one vote (‘mota’). All the ‘nemos’ (resolutions) had to be passed unanimously and entered in a register (‘vahi’). A nay (‘naka’) was a veto and a single person could block the decision of the rest. The fertile land was auctioned triennially. The villagers were informed about it five nights in advance (‘panch rati’). The gaonkars gathered at the ‘gaonponn’ to make land grants. In case a gaonkar wanted to sell his rights, the gaonponn had the right of pre-emption. If an outsider wanted to take a bid at the auction, he had to find a gaonkar who could stand as a security for him. If the gaonkar was unable to pay his taxes, his rights to the ‘zon’ were auctioned during his life time. If the gaonkars were unable to pay their revenue to the state, they were suspended. If he absconded, a time was fixed for his return. If he did not, his heirs were given an opportunity to assume his obligations. If they refused, the council gave the right to a beneficiary who was willing to pay the arrears. The council took all the important decisions and solved disputes at the local level. These CP regimes had the capacity to alter, solve and shape the dilemmas that confronted users.

    The village council was divided into aggregates (‘vaddos’) and the land was divided into different categories depending upon its quality. The council was headed by a ‘vodil’ or ‘budhvont’ (elder) who served as a chief councillor. The chief councillors were honoured at regular intervals and used certain status symbols. They had ritual control but their actual control went far beyond ritualism. Their meetings were primary assemblies as they were attended by all the male founding family members. The gaonkaria was a traditional, economic organisation of coproprietors wherein the gaonkars jointly held, administered and enjoyed benefits from the village lands. It was more of a relationship among people than an objective resource. The former evolved cooperative strategies to ensure the sustenance and survival of the users. The non-agricultural classes and outsiders were periodically inducted into the system and compensated by a share in the produce or by small plots of land.

    The arable land, including the low lying ‘neli’, was given to the priestly class and village administrators in lieu of their salaries, the lowlands which had the houses of villagers circumscribed by small plots (‘ghar-bhatt’) were leased to the gaonkars and non-gaonkars, the medium quality land (namoxins) was given to the temples or village servants for public utility works and low quality land was rented out in perpetuity either on a fixed rent (‘cutubona’) or a variable tax (‘vanty’).

    The distribution of produce and profits was regulated by a system of shares (zon). This was the agrarian surplus that was distributed among the gaonkars after deducting the voluntary tribute (‘koxivorodo’) that was to be paid to the king after defraying expenses for general maintenance of the village infrastructure. The system was in-built and the council was accountable for it.

    Economic and Political Weekly February 4, 2006

    It depended on the sovereign only for defence and security. Though the administration of the local government varied from village to village, land was owned in common and the rules of the gaonkarias were rigorously observed as they were related to the village economy, defence of life and property, prevention of crime and promotion of the all-round development of the village. The village council also looked after public utility works like building roads, cleaning paths, setting up and cleaning the drainage system, constructing tanks for ablution, supplying drinking water for cattle, forging water conduits, erecting bridges and dams over the rivulets, putting up schools and ‘davarnes’ or pillars for head loads, planting trees along the roads for shade, etc [Powell 1960; deSouza 1979; Pereira 2000; Velinkar 2000].

    In due course of time, the gaonkars appropriated the right to reclaim the land and hold it as their hereditary right. This was strengthened by the Vijayanagar and Adil Shahi rulers who inducted feudalism and landlordism into the agrarian sector. During this period, the tribute that was imposed on the gaonkars was disproportionate to the income of the people. The village assembly had to stand as a surety for this payment to avoid the confiscation of the property for the non-payment of dues. This is one of the reasons that prompted the local Sardesais to instigate the Portuguese to take over ‘Goa’ [Kamat 2001].

    The Colonial Intervention

    The policies that were pursued by the colonial government have to be studied within a Christocentric, Eurocentric and Lussocentric perspective. In the early years of conquest, the Portuguese did not interfere with the customs and usages of the local people. Moreover, they were not dependent on land revenue as the lucrative commercial activities that were carried out from the entrepot port yielded them rich returns. Having consolidated their hold over the old conquests, the Portuguese introduced several legal provisions to control the functioning of the gaonkaria so as to assert their absolute control over the metropolis, as the former was an important part of the agro-societal life of the village. The ‘foral’ (charter) of 1526 cordified the local usages and had 49 clauses that outlined the relationship between the locals and erstwhile colonial masters. It was based on the assumption that the villages had lost their ownership of the land to the Portuguese crown. The thrust of the charter was the principle of common responsibility, where village communities had to pay a compulsory tax (‘foro real’) to the colonial sovereign irrespective of profits or losses. In case of a default, eight principal villages were responsible to pay the dues. The land in the defaulting villages could be leased out by auction during which period the gaonkars lost their gaonkaria rights. The general meeting of the chiefs of the group of villages was presided over by a ‘thanadar’ and a clerk who were appointed by the Portuguese. They took the decisions and passed the resolutions (‘nems’) aloud. The chief ‘thanadar’ could call a meeting of all the representatives of the village to elect the administrative body at the gaonkaria. When a member of the gaonkarias died without a male issue, got converted to Islam or Hinduism or continued to profess ‘his’ religion, his share lapsed to the king. These properties were then auctioned or gifted by the crown [Kosambi 1947; Powell 1960:161-91].

    The village community was allowed to lease its cultivable land by auction. This system generated income to the gaonkarias and provided agricultural opportunities to the non-gaonkars. This auction was extended to the residents of other villages only if this was permitted by local customs. Moreover, the land could not be leased free of cost to non-residents; they had to pay a fixed amount irrespective of profits and losses. The uncultivated, barren land on the borders of the village was leased out against a certain rent, which could entitle the leases to a kind of ownership after 25 years. The clerk (‘escrivao’) maintained the records and drew up the resolutions. There is a reference to a gatekeeper, doorkeeper, ‘kamat’ (technician of the khazans), ‘painni’ (watchman) and the ‘potekar’ (bailiff). These posts were held by an outsider and auctioned. The ‘gaonkaria’ could grant land to officials in lieu of their services. These land grants were hereditary and the recipient was obliged to render his services to the village community. If the recipient wanted to sell his rights, he had to take the permission of all the gaonkars who had to sign a sale deed. All hereditary rights had to be enlisted in the documents (‘escripturas’) and all the adult males had to register their names in the communidades by showing their birth certificates [Gune 1968; Pereira 2000:15-19]. In 1541, the Foral dos Foros specified the taxes that had to be paid to the crown.

    In the 16th century, the Portuguese lost their hold over maritime trade and commerce. As they were involved in the Lusso-Dutch conflicts, they had neither the capacity nor the resources to sustain their overseas possessions. Therefore, they legislated sweeping changes in the gaonkarias and rechristened them as communidades. They overhauled its internal mechanism to appropriate land rights and the agrarian surplus. They also introduced the concept of semi-private property or individual property rights in land.

    In the wake of evangelisation, the temples were destroyed and their lands were taken away. Gaonkaria rights were forcibly taken away from those villagers who resisted conversion. Religious persecution led to large-scale migration of the agro-based communities. All these lands were either gifted to the church or leased out to allies of the crown. This resulted in violent local resistance of the rural peasantry to these colonial policies that were new to the subcontinent. Those who helped the Portuguese in suppressing local rebellions were rewarded in terms of land. As a result of this, the commons lost their lands, allies of the crown became the proprietary owners of the land and the Portuguese were able to appropriate the agrarian surplus in a legal manner.

    17th Century Reforms: Transformation of CPRs into Pseudo-colonial Possessions

    Even after Goa lost its commercial lucre, the colonial government failed to develop agriculture because Portugal did not have a predominant agrarian base. Nevertheless, in Goa, the Portuguese were keen on diverting the agrarian surplus to the state.

    In 1649, the Council of Landed Properties declared that the state was the ‘lord of all the community lands’, the village councillors were the vassals of the crown and the gaonkars were tenants. In the 17th century, the Portuguese insisted that tenants had to compulsorily pay a fixed tribute (‘foro corrente’) to the crown. The charter considerably restructured village life but retained village communities. Another important regulation was the Regimento of 1735 that was formulated to regulate the functioning and management of village communities in the old conquests. The 46 ‘capitulos’ (chapters) maintained autonomy in the functioning of the communidades but made the members, the administrator, scribe and president responsible and accountable to the Portuguese. The supervision of each ‘mahal’ was now carried out by the judge of the communidades who was appointed by the Portuguese. Legal proceedings could be carried out against the arbitrators, revenue collectors, and clerks of the communidades for any illegal or unauthorised registration of members. Election to the agrarian chambers was limited to the converts. The judge and revenue officers were entrusted with the task of auditing the administration and accounts of the communidades triennially. A number of restrictions were placed on the use of money by the gaonkarias. However, this was relaxed in case of the urgent repairs of ‘bunds’. There was a total prohibition against the participation of white races in the local units. It was essential to keep money in the safety of cash boxes that had three keys kept in the possession of three separate officials. The village communities had to propose three names for the post of a head constable and chief thanadar who were nominated to hold the office for three years [Xavier 1831, 1852, Mendes 1923].

    In 1745, the veto system was abolished and resolutions could be passed by a simple majority. The mahazans and gaonkars enjoyed a status that was based on their class, occupation and influence. In the 1770s, there were periodic attempts to reclaim the land. The bous was institutionalised and empowered to clear wastelands. In 1776, an agricultural department was created to reclaim land under punitive conditions. A superintendent of agriculture was appointed to supervise the development of agriculture and infrastructure [Mendes 1923:196, D’souza 2000].

    In the 19th century there were frequent attempts by the Portuguese to appropriate local resources and undertake adventurous experimentation with the land systems of the impoverished peasantry of the sub-ghat region. As the threat from Indian enemies subsided, the Portuguese began to encroach upon the feudal privileges of the ‘ryots’. The decree of 1836 abolished the posts of judge and chief thanadar in village communities. The judicial cases were now referred to the district judge. The Regimento of 1871 had eight articles that tried to regulate the functions of the village communities [Decree, December 7, 1836; D’souza 1992, BG 1871].

    In the face of the British threat, the survival of the ‘Estado da India’ became the dominant ‘weltanschuang’. Economic stagnation and the systematic disappearance of the old grandeur of the colonial state resulted in large-scale emigrations. The original inhabitants were now called ‘émigrés’ as they moved out in search of remittances as an alternative source of income. This resulted in the further neglect and exodus from the agrarian sector. The decree of 1880 extended the membership of the communidades to the shareholders, associates and the public in general. In the new conquests, a new system of shareholders (‘accionistas’) was devised. The dividend of the alienable share and net income of the village community was divided among a fixed number of shareholders who were non-gaonkars. But, they were not allowed to take part in the administration of the village communities or in the auction of the fields. It also specified the structure of the governing bodies of the communidades at the village level and the agrarian chamber at a higher level. The aspects related to auctions, leases and the collection of revenue were dealt with in such a manner that the state received a share of the surplus. During the Republican regime, the Portuguese made some attempts to improve agriculture through the enactment of the Loan Act of 1883.

    In 1886, nearly 465 articles relating to the functions of officials who administered the assets of the communidades were introduced. The legislations regulated the powers of the government vis-à-vis the communidades. related to procedures associated with expenditure, recovery, deficit, debt, sales, mortgages, accountability, records and registration of the latter [BG 1880, 1886; Portarias 1886].

    In 1905, the first code on the communidades was promulgated. It had nearly 750 legislations that were aimed at developing the vast properties of the communidades and promoting public welfare. The land was auctioned every three to six years for cultivation. The ‘camara agraria’ was abolished and its functions were passed on to the communidades. In 1933, the code was reframed and had 873 articles. Under the Republican regime, liberal political thinkers realised that the communidades were not suited to the exigencies of time. New settlers were inducted into the system and issued non-transferable shares. They were also entitled to fixed dividends.

    In 1961, a code of 660 articles was promulgated. This was complete with annexures, maps, forms, fee tables, etc. The bous was legally abolished and the government took up the responsibility of administering the communidades. The number of personnel and the salaries that they were entitled to were stated. There is a reference to the emoluments and process of calculating total dividends, which varied from one communidade to another. There was an annexure that contained the forms to be filled, registers to be kept and the certificates to be issued. The communidades had four ordinary meetings in a year. Extraordinary meetings were to be held whenever they were required. The meetings were preceded by a public announcement or a ‘pergoes’ in the different wards or with notices. The communidades used to give loans at 4 per cent interest whenever there was disposable money in the cash boxes against a security of gold, silver or shares (‘accoes’) of the communidades [Portarias 1904, BG 1908, CC 1961].

    An important fallout of the colonial intervention was that the surplus was gradually but legally diverted to the Portuguese. Insiders gradually began to ignore their obligations and rural poor were pauperised as they lost their sustenance. The distribution of land was unequal and landholdings were small, scattered and unviable as the bulk of the land was appropriated by allies of the Portuguese. The Portuguese were allowed to overrule the decisions of the goankars. Though the general body meetings were held on a mutual consultation, all the gaonkars no longer enjoyed formal rights in the colonial set-up.

    Post-Liberation Reforms

    A cadastral survey that was conducted around 1961 indicated that the communidades owned 34.9 per cent to 85.0 per cent of the cultivable land in Goa. They owned 200 to 400 hectares of land in the coastal tracts and 2 to 40 per cent of the land in the interior of the villages. There were 224 communidades in the 10 ‘talukas’ of Goa that owned 11.2 per cent or 14,968 hectares of land. The communidades owned 85 per cent of land in Bardez,

    34.9 per cent in Tiswadi, 60 per cent Marmagao and 60 per cent in Salcete. In 1961, private owners owned 54 per cent of the land, the government owned 32 per cent, Catholic institutions had 0.3 per cent while the municipality and others owned the rest [Gune 1979, NCAER 1964, Kamat 2001:147-48, Almeida 1967, GoI 1982].

    At the time of liberation, an average communidade distributed 16 per cent of its earnings as dividends. They spent 22 per cent on administrative expenses, 19 per cent as land tax or quit rent, 16 per cent on extraordinary expenses, 6 per cent on religious

    Economic and Political Weekly February 4, 2006

    and social work, 2 per cent on the amortisation of loans and payment of interests and 19 per cent on miscellaneous expenditure. By law, the ‘escrivao’ is accountable to the administrator the communidade. Today, there appears to be minimum accountability in the use and management of funds [Sinha 2002].

    In the old conquests, the communidades owned nearly half the paddy fields. Agriculture was an important sector of the economy but the least productive. Village communities were stagnant and contributed merely to one-sixth of total state income. Recent statistics show that rice production in Goa is merely 3 tonnes per hectare (in 2001). There is a spate of land conversion in Goa. In the 1990s, 65-80 per cent of lands were used for nonagricultural purposes (Navhind Times, December 5, 2003; Goa Today, Vol 24, p 22).

    The land that was hitherto owned by village communities was auctioned triennially to the highest bidder. This was replaced by a 25 year and later a 99 year lease. The bidders now became quasi-permanent owners of the community lands. This adversely affected the pattern of rural development. Today, there is a need to review the legal structure on a rational basis as it legally bans the access of traditional users to the land that always paid a ‘foro’ (tribute) to the communidade. The new social actors no longer pay any tax and the concerned authorities have failed to monitor this.

    The communidades have become defunct and traditional institutions are unable to perform the legitimate duties they were obliged to perform in the past. The khazans along the riverside have become prone to inundation. The total of 7,333 hectares of khazan land in 81 villages is managed by 138 tennant associations; 6,500 hectares is used for traditional fishing but the additional area is illegally flooded and zonal agricultural officers and tenant associations have failed to take any action. Coastal khazans are neglected and have become vulnerable to vector borne germs and the ecologically balanced subsistence production system is disturbed [Varde and Kamat 1992, Bulletin of Vector Borne Diseases, Vol III, 1991]. Today, the communidades have become complex and unwieldy institutions that are merely interested in collecting the foro (tribute) and distributing the surplus to gaonkars in the form of ‘zono’ (shares).

    Conventionally, the gaonkars were specific, localised subgroups of the descendents of the original settlers of the land. The former had an organic relationship with the land and its resources. After liberation, many dominant gaonkars immigrated. Of the 36,000 gaonkars who figured in the 224 communidades in Goa in the late 20th century, 18,000 lived in the villages of their birth, 10,000 lived in other parts of Goa and 8,000 have immigrated [Fernandes 1996, Dias 1964]. But, even they enjoy their zons in absentia. Many outsiders came to settle down in the villages. In the communidades the president, attorney and treasurer are elected on the basis of a narrow, adult male franchise. The dominant social groups are able to encroach on the land with the help of the latter. This has cut off the access of the rural poor from their key physical and cultural resource.

    The economic development and diversification of the Goan economy dealt a further blow to localised institutions. The gaonkars who have immigrated have acquired a ‘nouvean riche’ status. They have adopted a highly luxurious, leisure-oriented lifestyle and invest in real estate, hospitality concerns and commercial complexes. The market value of land has increased tremendously. This has resulted in the large-scale encroachment on common property. Population pressure and the scarcity of land has increased the commercial value of common property and resulted in the overexploitation of common resources. Even the nonagricultural, barren wastelands that belong to the communidades are grabbed by both insiders and outsiders. Periodical statements are issued by politicians regarding the demolition of houses that are built on the encroached lands of communidades. However, little has been done till date. Agriculture is carried out by a few who cling to village life with indolence. The rural poor who are priced out in the process are also encroaching upon the communidade lands. The welfare schemes that distribute land to the landless have caused the bulk of land to lapse to the beneficiaries.1

    The rents that were hitherto collected by the communidades are no longer claimed. The system of an annual, public auction of the plots owned by the Gaonkaria is abolished. The Goa, Daman and Diu Agricultural Tenancy Act, 1964 provided security to and reduced the burden of the tenant cultivators. They were freed from the exploitation of absentee landlords and kept in direct contact with the state. The act tried to abolish intermediaries and simplified the collection of land revenue. The tenure of land held by farmers was legalised and special privileges were given to the tenants to make them occupants. The tenants associations were entrusted with the task of paying an irrigation tax, leasing the khazan lands (under the supervision of the collector) and had to maintain the bunds (50 per cent of the costs were borne by the state). The Goa, Daman and Diu Mundkars Act, 1975 was inclined in favour of giving land to the occupants and assured them permanent rights including the right to purchase sites around the house. In 2003, the act was declares ‘ultra vires’ to the Constitution as it was not included in the IXth Schedule. The Eviction from Property bill quashed the amendments of 1956 and 1996. In 2004, the Goa Mundkars Bill (Protection from Eviction) was reintroduced in the state assembly and is yet to be passed. The common lands are now in the hands of tenants and mundkars who are manipulated by land dealers and builders. Even the waste lands are infiltrated upon. The state government is powerless to check this.2

    The Konkan Railway project, the National Highway projects, and irrigation, road and other state sponsored infrastructure projects have encroached upon the land of the commons. The state government has bought the non-saleable, common property ‘in perpetum’. In fact, after liberation, the state government has been unable to assert its suzerainty over this land.

    Panchayati Raj: The Alternative

    Common properties are generally overexploited as there are no strong incentives that make it rational for users to protect them, as the benefits would then be appropriated by others. To overcome this problem, three alternatives are proposed. It is proposed to convert the common property resources into private property so that only an exclusive group of users could have an access to them. Privatisation ensures protection of property as there are strong incentives that make it rational and legal for owners to do so. They also have the social sanction to exclude others and this overcomes the problem of free riders and ensures security of tenure. However, it is argued that this alternative is unproductive, as the new owners are not acquainted with the land. Moreover, they are keen to convert essentially productive land into residential areas, as agriculture is unprofitable. Such an option denies access to the rural poor [Acheson 2000, Scott 1954, Bob 1998, Karanth 1992, Nadkarni 1990].

    The second suggestion is to hand over common properties to the government. The state regulation school argues that the government is the only authority competent to manage such land efficiently as their productive returns are poor. However, it is argued that this option results in land grabbing by powerful bureaucrats. State involvement supplants the local initiative by top-down bureaucratic intervention and superimposes upon the inherent decision-making system. Large and centrally administered bureaucracies represent an inefficient and potentially destructive means of allocating resources within a society [Hardin 1968; Ostrom 1990; Chopra et al 1990; Marothia 2002].

    It is proposed that the use and regulation of common properties be entrusted to the user community to ensure a democratic and decentralised management. The stakeholders have include community groups, informal organisations, self-help groups, etc, that supposedly operate within the paradigm of a ‘moral economy’. There are also periodic references to transformational participation that depends on the collective action of the people whose lives are affected by the system. Local institutions in this case occupy a distinct domain for the management of natural resources that are neither recognised by the state nor have legal status and are, as such, linked to the concept of local democracy [Das 2000; Foucault 1983; Chopra et al 1990; Pasha 1992; Western and Wright 1994; Putnam 1993; Scott 1976].

    In Goa, none of these alternatives are practical. Prior to liberation, the communidade was the predominant institution that catered to rural areas. But after liberation no attempt was made to understand its peculiarities. After Goa was integrated into the Indian mainstream, the bureaucrats could have been raised the gaonkarias to the status of self-governing institutions by democratising their formation and extending the membership to a wider franchise. A more broad based, democratic institution would improve the quality of life in the village.

    Article 40 made provisions for the establishment of village panchayats. In Goa, the government ignored endemic institutions and thrust the gram panchayats on a similar institution. 188 panchayats were set up in the union territory. These were local, self-governing, democratic institutions based on universal adult franchise that were oriented towards planning and promoting public welfare activities at the local level and at “providing an adequate space for the marginalised groups in the federal setup”.3

    Gradually, the panchayats encroached upon a number of duties that were performed by the goankarias and later by the communidades. The maintenance of village infrastructure, desalination of the khazans, repair of bunds, construction and maintenance of village roads, dykes, canals, culverts, wells, maintenance of community assets, etc, were now handled by the panchayats. This further diminished the rationale behind the very existence of the communidades.

    However, the panchayats do not have adequate resources to undertake such activities. Although the plan outlay for the schemes and programmes to be implemented by the state government have been outlined by the XIth Schedule, the state government has neither appointed state finance commissions nor has it statutorily devolved any financial resources to the panchayats. The panchayats do not have the support of the gaonkars to undertake voluntary work on a cooperative basis. As a result of this, village infrastructure is neglected resulting in epidemics and other disasters.

    The 73rd Amendment Act (1992) recognises the gram sabhas as the basic institution in the three-tier structure of local self-government. The act made it mandatory for panchayats to call a gram sabha meeting at least twice a year. Here, those whose names were included in the electoral rolls were expected to participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of prodevelopment community projects. They were also expected to discuss proposals for increasing revenue, organise community services, mobilise locals for voluntary programmes and other special work, identify schemes, etc. Gram sabhas could be more realistic and community-oriented if they were be based on a thorough, mutual consultation and dialogue with the people but this has remained more in theory than in practice. Therefore, the National Government implemented the XIthSchedule (Extension Act) by which it was obligatory for every panchayat to have a gram sabha so that “the people could ensure their control and rights over their natural resources and preserve their identity in participatory manner”. The said amendment legally entrusted 29 funds, 29 functions and 29 functionaries to the panchayats. On the basis of this, the government of Goa passed the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, by which the gram sabha was statutorily entrusted with supervisory, vigilance, financial and community-oriented functions. It was obligatory for the sarpanch to call a meeting at least twice a year. The resolutions that were passed by the gram sabhas were binding on the panchayats [Pal 2004; GoI 2001]. The misuse of common property at the local level can be averted by entrusting its utilisation and management to the gram sabhas. The gram sabhas can constitute a local committee for this purpose, in coordination with the panchayats and the block development authorities. Today, the state can declare itself as the overlord of land in the village. A one-time policy can be announced to regulate any illegal encroachment into common land and entrust the functioning of the same to the respective panchayat. A periodic review of the functioning and performance of the system is the need of the hour.

    The state government can bear the initial costs and pump in considerable resources into the system. It can also make a set of rules to regulate the effective channelisation of these resources. The commitment of the government and an effective and selfless bureaucracy is required at this point. NGOs and civil society can also be assimilated into the system to make it more transparent and responsive to the public needs. Some methods that have been proposed to improve the effectiveness of the management of CPRs are beneficiary assessment, stakeholder based evaluations and monitoring systems, collaborative monitoring and evaluating systems and participatory assessment systems [Rajakutty 2000, Dadibhavi 2000, Wade 1994]. All these aim at increasing the participation of those people who were associated with the Common Property Regimes for centuries.


    The traditional past survives in a hierarchical present and the polarities and continuum between the two have to be understood. A new, assimilative, broad system based has to be evolved. The Regional Plan of Goa, 2001 aimed at integrated rural development and resource utilisation but, more remains to be done. Given the peripheral position of the rural poor, the development of common property will assure participative or collaborative development. The democratisation and empowerment of local administrative bodies can enhance participation in decision-making, particularly among groups that have been marginalised by local political processes. The participation of the locals in decisionmaking bodies can lead to an improvement in self identity and

    Economic and Political Weekly February 4, 2006

    worth, which can break down customs of inequality and discrimination. This will also provide local people with important skills in bookkeeping, leadership, etc, that will make them confident in other walks of life. Community participants have existed for centuries, we only need a broader mechanism to regulate the traditional management system through the gram sabhas.4




    1 Some of the issues are addressed by Kamat (2001).

    2 Notification GAD/EST-1265 March 29, 1965; Goa Daman and Diu, Agricultural Tenancy Act, 1964; Government of Goa, Advances in Agriculture, 1996; Navhind Times, December 3-19, 2003, and February 10, 2004.

    3 Goa, Daman and Diu, Village Panchayat Regulation Act, 1962; Gune 1979, pp 661-62; Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994.

    4 Such options have already been discussed by NGOs like Peaceful Society and GOA DESC that are based in Goa. The state government has also voiced its opinion in favour of strengthening the panchayats but the policy awaits implementation.


    Acheson, James (2000): 'Clear Cutting Maine: Implications for the Theory of Common Property Resource’, Human Ecology, 28(2).

    Almeida, J C (1967): Aspects of the Agricultural Activity in Goa, Daman and Diu.

    Altekar, A S (1927): A History of Village Communities in Western India, Madras.

    Bandyopadhyay, Rekha (1993): ‘Land System in India: A Historical Review’, Economic and Political Weekly, December 25, p 149.

    BG (1871): Boletim do Governo (Official), No 40, May 26, pp 213-14.

  • (1880): Boletim do Governo (Official), No 118, October 23, pp 703-07.
  • (1886): Boletim do Governo (Official), No 246, December 10, p 1005,e passim; Portarias, No 591, October 30.
  • (1908): Boletim do Governo (Official), No 63, August 14, p 765.
  • (1933): Boletim do Governo (Official), No 40, May 20.
  • – (2000): ‘The Village Communities: A Historical and Legal Perspective’ in Charles Borges, Oscar G Pereira and Hannes Stubbe (eds).

    Blaikie, P and H Brookfield (1987): Land Degradation and Society, Routledge.

    Bob, Sam (1998): ‘Tragedy of Commons’, Journal of Rural Development, 17 (1).

    Bromley, D (1992): ‘The Commons, Property and Common Property Regimes’ in D Bromley (ed), Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice and Policy, San Francisco, pp 3-15.

    CC (1961): Codigo das Communidades, Panjim.

    Chopra, Kanchan, Gopal K Keidekodi and M N Murthy (1990): Participatory Development People and Common Property Resource, New Delhi.

    Dadibhavi, R V (2000): ‘Management of Common Property Resources: A Review and Some Policy Issues’, Journal of Rural Development, Vol 19, (2), pp 199-217.

    Das, Jishnu (2000): ‘Institutions and Incentives in a Garwhal Village-Common Property Regime in Traditional Society’, Economic and Political Economy, December 2.

    Demsetz, Harold (1967): ‘Towards a Theory of Property Rights’, American Economic Review, 57(2), pp 347-59.

    de Souza, T R (1979): Medieval Goa: A Socio-economic History, New Delhi.

    Dias, A L (1964): Report of Land Reform Commission.

    D’Souza, Carmo (1992): Legal System in Goa, Judicial Institutions, [15101982], Vol I, pp 39-40.

    Fernandes, Tony (1996): Report of the Study on the Commission on theAgrarian Condition.

    Foucault, Michel (1983): ‘Afterword: The Subject and Power’ in Hubert Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Chicago.

    GoI (1982): Report of Task Force on Economic Development Plan for Goa, Government of India.

    – (2001): Report of the Task Force on the Devolution of Powers and Functions upon Panchayati Raj Institutions, Ministry of Rural Development, August.

    Gold, N (1990): ‘Stakeholders and Programme Evaluation: Characteristics and Reflections’ in A S Bryk (ed), Stakeholders Based Evaluation, San Francisco, pp 63-72.

    Gomes Pereira, Rui (2000): Gaunkari: The Old Village Associations, Panjim.

    Gune, V T (1968): ‘An Outline of the Administrative Institutions of the Portuguese Territories in Goa’, Studies in Indian History, Kolhapur, pp 68-69.

  • (ed), (1979), Gazetter of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu, Part I.
  • (1999): Farar Far: Local Resistance to Colonial Hegemony in Goa (1510-1912), Panaji, pp 137-38.
  • (2001): ‘Peasantry and the Colonial State in Goa (1946 to 1961)’ in Charles Borges, Oscar G Pereira and Hannes Stubbe (eds), op cit. Hardin, Garrett (1968): ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science, 162, pp 1243-48. Jodha, N S (1986): ‘Common Property Resources and the Rural Poor in Dry Regions of India’, Economic and Political Weekly, July 5, p 1169.
  • Kamat, Pratima (1990): ‘Historical Geography and Natural Resources’ in T R de Souza (ed), Goa through the Ages – An Economic History, New Delhi.

    Karanth, G K (1992): ‘Privatisation of Common Property Resources: Lessons from Karnataka’, Economic and Political Weekly, August 7. Kosambi, D D (1947): ‘Village Community in Old Conquest of Goa’, Journal of the University of Bombay, Vol 15, No 4, pp 63-78.

    – (1956): ‘Indian Feudalism’, An Introduction to Study of Indian History, Bombay. Marothia, Dinesh (2002): Institutionalising Common Pool Resources, New Delhi.

    Mckean, Margaret (1992): ‘Success of the Commons: A Comparative Examination of Institutions for Common Property Resource Management’, Journal of Theoretical Politics, Vol 4, No 3, pp 247-82.

    Mendes, A Lopes (1923): A India Portuguesa, Panaji, Vol II, p 378.

    Nadkarni, M V (1990): ‘Use and Management of Common Lands: Towards An Environmentally Sound Stratergy’ in Cecil J Saldanha (ed), Karnataka State of Enviornment, Report IV, pp 127-30.

    NCAER (1964): Technoeconomic Survey of Goa, Daman and Diu, p 209.

    NRC (1986): Proceedings of a Conference on Common Property Resource Management, National Research Council, Washington.

    Ostrom, Elinor (1990): Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, New York.

    Pal, Mahi (2004): ‘Panchayati Raj and Rural Governance: Experience of a Decade’, Economic and Political Weekly, January 10, p 137.

    Pasha, S A (1992): ‘Common Property Resources and the Rural Poor: A Micro Level Analysis’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 27 (26), November 14.

    Portarias (1904): No 315, December 1.

    Powell, Baden (1960): ‘Villages of Goa in the Early 16th Century’, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, April.

    Putnam, Robert (1993): Making Democracy Work: Tradition in Modern Italy, Princeton.

    Rajakutty, S (2000): ‘Peoples’ Participation in Monitoring and Evaluation of Rural Development Programmes: Concepts and Approaches’, Journal of Rural Development, Vol 18 (9).

    Scott, G H (1954): ‘The Economic Theory of a Common Property Resource’, Journal of Political Economy, 62 (2).

    Scott, James (1976): The Moral Economy of the Peasants: Rebellion and Subsistence in South East Asia, New Haven.

    Shelvankar, K S (1961): ‘Precapitalist Economic Culture’ in A R Desai (ed), Rural Sociology in India, pp 150-52.

    Sinha, Arun (2002): Goa Indica: A Critical Potrait of Post Colonial Goa, New Delhi, pp 68-69

    Stevenson, G G (1991): Common Property Economics: A General Theory and Land Use Application, Cambridge.

    Varde, N P S and Nandkumar Kamat (unpublished) (1992): Report of the Agricultural Land Development.

    Velinkar, Joseph (2000): ‘Village Communities in Goa and Their Evolution’ in Charles Borges, Oscar G Pereira and Hannes Stubbe (eds), Goa and Portugal: History and Development, New Delhi.

    Wade, R (1987): ‘The Management of Common Property Resources: Finding a Cooperative Solution’, Research Observer, (2).

  • (1994): Village Republics: Economic Conditions for Collective Action in South India, Oakland. Western, David and Michel Wright (eds) (1994): Natural Connections: Perspectives in Community Based Conservation, Washington.
  • Xavier, F N (1831): Bosquejo historico das Communidades das aldeias dosConselhos das Ilhas; Salcete e Bardez, Panjim, pp 378.
  • (1852): Collecao dos leis peculiares das Communidades, Panjim, Part I, Doc 64, pp 92-118.
  • Dear Reader,

    To continue reading, become a subscriber.

    Explore our attractive subscription offers.

    Click here

    Back to Top