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Govt moves to stop illegal land sale in Goa

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The government is clamping down on foreigners illegally buying property in the country, including the coastal state of Goa, where residents complain land mafia are helping Westerners overrun their culturally distinct state.

File photo of tourists on Anjuna beach in Goa March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe/Files

An abundance of sun and sea and the attraction of low cost living encourage thousands of Westerners to stay in Goa, many of them illegally buying property from organised land rackets trying to cash in on a real estate boom, officials said.

The Indian law says foreigners are free to buy real estate, but with limits: Any money invested here must stay in India, and for the first year, buyers must be in residence more than 182 days and file income tax.

Goans say those rules are routinely flouted and blame the unchecked flood of illegal tourists for an erosion in local culture and rising crimes.

A spike in drug trade has made matters worse.

“It has come to the notice of the central government that foreign nationals are buying immovable property illegally in some parts of the country, particularly in Goa, which has raised concerns,” a government statement said on Thursday.

The statement advised state governments to be “extra vigilant” against violation of rules regarding sale and purchase of immovable property to foreigners.

“Where appropriate, the authorities may consider reviewing registration of sale/purchase already made to determine their compliance with legal requirements,” it said.

A clamour of complaints from Goans last year saw the state government first investigate the sale of more than 400 properties to foreigners since 1999 and then propose a ban on sale of any land to foreigners.

Goa this year also dropped plans to build industrial enclaves after strong protests from political and environmental groups who said a proliferation of industry could ruin the state’s fragile ecology and a heavy influx of outsiders would strain its limited resources.

Locals have linked a rise in crimes in Goa to drug trade and land mafia, with many of the Goa rackets run by foreigners, especially Russians and Israelis.

The palm-fringed beach state has seen a rash of crimes this year, including the murder of a British teenager and the rape of a German girl.

At least 126 foreign nationals have died in the state in the past two years, 40 of them British, officials said.

Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar