Villagers oppose setting up of IIT Goa campus on forested stretch, warn those supporting the projectUpdated: Aug 10, 2020 18:12 IST
Panaji: Villagers opposing the setting up of permanent campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) on a forested stretch of land at Melaulim village in Goa have warned that those supporting the project would enter the hamlet at their own peril.
On Sunday, around 500 villagers from Melaulim and surrounding hamlets put up the warning signboard underlining it would not be an empty threat against the setting up of the IIT campus.
“This is a direct stern warning to all those entering our village with the intention to hurt our sentiments, livelihood, faith, and rich biodiversity,” alleged Shashikant Sanvordekar, the convenor of the Melaulim Gram Panchakroshi Samiti.
The signage unequivocally warns “no entry” for the IIT campus in Melaulim village and that “any person visiting this area will be responsible for h/his own security”.
“We’d like to draw the government’s attention to the fact that our existence is dependent on the land, which is our precious possession,” said Shubham Shivolkar, another villager.
Located in the state’s eastern corner in the foothills of the Western Ghats and over 50 kilometres (km) from the state capital Panaji, the proposed permanent campus site for the IIT is a thickly-forested area and interspersed with cashew trees.
Villagers claimed that the cashew trees have sustained them for generations. They are demanding that the proposed IIT campus is shifted to a different location, where the ecological impact will be less severe.
Though Goa was allocated an IIT in 2014, it has been functioning from a temporary campus at the Goa Engineering College.
Earlier, though the state government had identified two sites --- in Canacona and Sanguem sub-districts – to set up a permanent IIT campus, both were scrapped due to public protests and after the opposition had alleged a land scam.
Rumblings of protest and murmurs of discontent were started by residents of Melaulim village and from adjoining hamlets in early February, when the state government made it known that it would hand over the land for the IIT’s permanent campus in May.
Trouble started when the police bundled off in a vehicle a section of villagers, who had called a press conference to protest against the move. The video of the alleged police high-handedness went viral on social media and sparked public outrage.
Though Melaulim village falls in an eco-sensitive zone, it hasn’t been formally declared as one because the state government notification to that effect is still pending.
The plot on which the IIT permanent campus is slated to come up is a revenue land and belongs to the state government.
However, Melaulim villagers have contended that the crisis has deepened because they don’t have the required documentation to prove that they have rights over the land.