INDIA CUTS VISA POWER FOR BRITS TO AVOID ILLEGAL LAND PURCHASE IN GOA

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The visa validity period for British nationals planning to visit India has been reduced to six months, from three years, to stem illegal purchase of land in Goa. Tourists and tour operators wishing to visit India on a holiday used to be given a 3-year visa earlier. The move by the High Commission in London is expected to make it difficult for foreigners to befriend locals who can be ‘used’ to illegally procure land anywhere in the country.

The issue of violations in sale of land to foreigners came to light last July, when local farmers in south Goa protested over agricultural land acquired by a foreign national for building a resort.

Following this, the state government set up a committee to scrutinise all land dealings involving foreigners. The committee found that more than half the number of 350 sales registered violated Fema, following which the government decided to look into all 482 land sales recorded since 1999 — when sale of property to foreign nationals was permitted under Fema. Cases of violation will be referred to the Enforcement Directorate/RBI.

The National Security Council too had last October observed that the Russian mafia was making huge real estate investments in Goa. In a document detailing potential threats to national security via FDI, NSC said the Russian mafia was using the real-estate route to pump in money as the sector came under automatic approval, requiring little scrutiny.

The panel set up by the Goan government was then also asked to look into the Russian mafia’s alleged involvement in land dealings.

Even as the state awaits the committee report, it has banned registration of land belonging to foreign nationals based on affidavits alone. The home department, including Goa Police, will have to clear the sale before registration is done.

All transactions found violating Fema norms will be made void, said debt management joint secretary Anupam Kishore, who heads the inquiry committee. Illegal sale of land is higher in the northern coastal belt from Calangute to Arambol, according to Kishore.

Real estate developers note that the last couple of years saw a sudden increase in foreigners buying Goan land, especially along the northern coastal belt. Purchase of land by foreigners in this area has more than doubled from 60 in 2004 to over 150 in 2005. It is expected to increase by 100% this year. Under Fema, a person of foreign national having a business visa, is allowed to procure land in India after staying in the required state for 182 days in the preceding financial year. The individual concerned must also have papers for either long-term employment in that place or for carrying on business/vocation there. Land can be purchased for commercial purposes, like setting an industry or running a hotel, and has to be registered with the Registrar of Companies and RBI. A foreigner can also purchase land purely for personal use — like a holiday home. In either case, the foreigner has to prove his intentions to stay in Goa for an uncertain period.

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