Published: 15th January 2021
Goa CM accepts demand to shift IIT campus from tribal village after incessant protests. Here's what changed his mind
Previously, the Chief Minister had said that work would continue in the area and that the villagers ‘would eventually calm down’
After months of protests, the Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced that they would be scrapping the IIT Goa project in Shel-Melauli, Sattari. The CM at a meeting with local representatives said that he was taking into consideration ‘people’s sentiments’ and has decided to move the location of the campus.
The Health Minister and several local representatives had written to the Chief Minister and stated that after consulting with the people of Sattari they had decided that if the people do not want the IIT to be constructed at Shel-Melauli, it is best to shift it. “The whole idea to bring the IIT in Sattari was for the development of Sattari and development of the whole Taluk and the neighbouring Taluks. But if the people do not want the IIT in Sattari, I would like to make a humble request to please take a decision to shift the IIT out of Sattari,” the representatives said.
Sawant said that his decision to accept the demands was not an election stunt and that if the people really did not want the project to be set up there, then they would do what was being demanded of them. Previously, the Chief Minister had said that work would continue in the area and that the villagers ‘would eventually calm down’. However, the Health Minister’s letter has changed his mind.
On January 6, hundreds of police had lathi-charged protestors leaving many severely injured. Police allegedly stepped on the chests of the women who were laying down in protest. Over the last two months, the villagers of Shel-Melauli had been protesting against the government’s decision to set up an IIT campus on a 10 lakh square metre area on their land. Last week hundreds of policemen landed up in the area when officials arrived to demarcate and survey the area and the villagers protested.
The villagers had been turning up in large numbers at the area demanding that the government move their project elsewhere since the land belonged to them. The locals of the area have said that the land has belonged to them for years and they currently cultivate crops in the region. Activists say that the area is a densely forested land and deforesting the area would mean Goa losing a huge part of its forests. Abhijit Desai, one of the activists helping the villagers with their fight, says that the land belongs to the tribals in the area. “Also there are three wildlife sanctuaries on the West, East and South of the land. The area is steep, the villagers are dependent on the water in this area and people from neighbouring villages are also dependent on this land for their livelihood,” he said.
“This is an important part of the forests in the Western Ghats. We have so many animals here from the bison to deer to black panthers. This land cannot be touched. It would have ruined so many lives,” Abhijit said. However, the government had been refusing to accept that it was the tribals’ land and insisting that it is government property. “The government records show that the land belongs to the government but there are also some very old records that show it as forested land,” he added.
The activist claimed that the Goa government had not recognised half the forested areas in the state which is why, this land had also not been identified as one, “In Goa, there is about 60 per cent forest area but the government only recognises about 38 per cent, so most of the land is not protected. The government is refusing to recognise that this is forest land even though it is so densely forested and so much wildlife resides here.”
He also said that the residents of the area belong to some of the most backward and oppressed communities that have had no land rights, “The people here have been fighting for land rights for years now. Allowing the IIT to be built would have led to large scale land scams because of the feudal landlords. The IIT being set up here would have meant more demand in the area so the scam would have gone into thousands of crores.”
Incidentally, the government had previously chosen two separate areas to set up the campus but due to protests had to shift to the current site. Now again, the project is being shifted to a new area.