He has already lost his home. He is in no mood to lose his land

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By G Vishnu

The defiant one  Gregory Patrao went on a 25-day hunger strike to save his ancestral land
The defiant one
Gregory Patrao went on a 25-day hunger strike to save his ancestral land

NAIL HOUSES’ is the term used by urban developers in China and other parts of the world to describe residences belonging to stubborn homeowners who refuse to part with them at any cost. Karnataka is witnessing a similar saga.

Gregory Patrao, 41, from Kalavaru village, made headlines last month when he went on a 25-day hunger strike in front of the Mangalore District Commissioner’s office. He was protesting after his house was demolished by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) so that the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) could take over the land.

On 28 April, bulldozers razed standing crop and areca trees before bringing Gregory’s 300-year-old house down. The structure was originally a prayer house built by Portuguese missionaries. Even after the demolition, the Patraos refused to budge — they have been living in a plastic shed for the past three months.

Gregory was born into a poor family. After his seven sisters and two elder brothers left home after marriage, he started to look after the land and his two younger brothers. “Gregory’s commitment to his land flourished in his childhood, withstood the angst of his youth and sustained his struggle,” says Natesh Ullal of the Citizens’ Forum, an NGO.

It is unclear who Gregory is fighting against. The MRPL needed Gregory’s land for expansion. Gregory’s father, Thomas, had fought a landmark case to keep his land, despite losing 52 cents. In 1996, Gregory’s family was given a fresh notification by the KIADB for acquiring the remaining 14.27 acres. Gregory filed three objections in the Karnataka High Court against the notifications. Even as his objections were being considered, he got another notification in 2006 from the KIADB to give up his land — this time for the Mangalore Special Economic Zone Ltd (MSEZL).

MSEZL is a special-purpose vehicle established with the intent of setting up a 4,000-acre SEZ in Mangalore. Built in two phases, land acquisition for the first phase went smoothly with 1,158 families giving up their lands for a price. There was only one hurdle — Gregory Patrao. The relationship between MRPL and MSEZL is a tricky one. The MRPL’s expansion project in 300 acres was supposed to be inside the SEZ, before officials discovered the acquisition could run into legal trouble. Hence an agreement between the MRPL, MSEZL and KIADB ensured that the Patrao family’s land was acquired by KIADB for MSEZL and then handed over to MRPL.

“Thousands of people from all backgrounds came to my support. I ended the strike on 10 July at the behest of the chief minister. He called me and assured that an independent inquiry will look into my issue,” says Gregory.

Meanwhile, MRPL claims that it has lost Rs 600 crore because of the longdrawn battle. “MRPL is a public-sector enterprise and we are accountable to people. We are sensitive to the plight of the Patraos. We hope that the inquiry report is beneficial to both parties,” says public relations officer Laxmi Kumeran.

The Patraos have sworn not to move out ever. The decision was taken by the 75-year-old matriarch, Mary. “We can forgo the crops and part with our belongings. But parting with this ancestral land is impossible,” she says.

Photo: Citizens’ Forum

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