Page last updated at 22:04 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 23:04 UK

Threat to expat homes in Goa

By Karen Pirie
BBC

It is all they are talking about now: "Have you got your visa? Will our homes be confiscated? Are you being investigated?"

Goan property owned by a British national
Are too many coastal properties owned by foreigners?

Attracted by the fine weather, beautiful coastline, friendly locals and favourable exchange rate, hundreds of British people who have visited Goa on holiday have decided to make it their home.

Not just Britons, but Russians, Israelis and other nationalities too.

But clouds are gathering on that glistening horizon, as the Goan authorities are now clamping down on foreign investment.

Locals priced out

Large developments along the unspoilt coastline of India's smallest state have prompted understandable complaints from villagers, who are concerned that they are being priced out of the market.

Face the Facts: Trouble in Paradise
Friday 18 July
12:30pm, Radio 4

"Lots of people come and because it is small and beautiful they try to invest money and buy huge tracts of land," the chief minister of the Goan state government, Digambar Kamat says. "Locals feel that our land is being sold."

As long as buyers adhere to the law, nobody has anything to fear, he continues.

But critics say that the Goan government has amended and reinterpreted existing property legislation to deter foreign nationals from buying property.

Map of India, showing Goa

Wendy and her husband decided to make the break from the UK three years ago.

At that time, it was easy to get long visas, sometimes up to five years, negating the need for frequent and expensive trips back to the UK to renew them.

More recently expats say they are lucky to get a one-year or even a six-month visa. And this means frequent costly trips back home to renew them.

Changes in property law

Wendy asked us not to use her real name, because, like many others, she does not want to rock the boat and make life even more difficult for herself.

She spent a lot of time researching the local property laws, talking to people who had already bought in Goa. She engaged two solicitors before buying her apartment in Candolim in the heart of the British expat belt on Goa's north coast.

They just say: 'No you're a foreigner. Go away'
British expat in Goa

"I don't think there's much more we could have done," she says. But despite this, the couple still does not have the deeds to their property.

"The Goan government have changed the law and made it impossible for us to register our deeds. If you go to the registrar's office they just say no you're a foreigner, go away."

Hundreds caught by the change

It is the Goan government's amendment to the 100-year-old Indian Registration Act that has put the spanner in the works.

marketplace in Goa
Many foreigners choose to live in Goa when they retire

Now foreigners are unable to register their property deeds until all their paperwork has been checked and signed off. In practice, the number of foreigners who have been able to do this has dwindled to virtually none.

The authorities are also investigating some 400 foreigners - mostly British - for supposed violations of FEMA, the Foreign Exchange Management Act, which came into force in 2000.

Homeowners being investigated

Julie and Bill, who sold up in the UK to make a new life in Goa, believe they did everything by the book before buying their apartment.

The warm climate did wonders for Bill's heart problems and life was sweet, for a while.

But the change in political climate forced the couple to reconsider the move and they decided to sell up and leave Goa. They were baffled when a letter arrived from the Directorate of Enforcement last summer.

"It didn't say what we'd done wrong," Bill recalls.

But he still had to make the nearly 300-mile trip to Mumbai to have his paperwork checked and to be questioned by officials.

A year later, the couple were still in the dark as to what part of the law they had infringed, but because they were under investigation they were prohibited from going through with their sale.

Finally last week, the couple heard news from their advocate that they were able to sell.

"The Goan government don't want you here, so you can sell up and go," he told them.

Property confiscated

Hundreds of others are still waiting to get the all-clear from the investigators, and are equally in the dark as to their misdemeanours.

Advocate Vikram Varma is representing about 15 of these people. He says that FEMA, the law which has worked so well since 2000, is now being reinterpreted by the Goan government in a way which effectively excludes foreigners from buying property.

John Waite, presenter of Face the Facts, interviewing in Goa
Face the Facts interviews those affected by the change in policy

Anupam Kishore is joint secretary of the Goan government's finance department. It was his report that led to the investigation of the 400 or so foreigners.

He insists that Indian law is and always has been quite clear and that property purchase was only open to those who could prove that they were staying in the country indefinitely.

He says they cannot really do anything about ignorance of the law.

People should have taken proper advice, from the right authorities. And he says those found in breach of the law could even have their properties confiscated.

Mr Varma says it is only the Goan authorities who have made this interpretation of FEMA. He says he will take this argument to the Indian Supreme Court if necessary to try to ensure that his British clients can once again feel at home in Goa.

Face the Facts: Trouble In Paradise will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 12.30pm on Friday 18th July 2008.


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