“Go back IIT” was the unanimous voice yesterday, afters hundreds of locals from Melaulim village – mostly the women – took to the road protesting against the proposed IIT project in the village. They also prevented government officials – who had arrived for the demarcation of IIT proposed land – from entering the village.
The village folks, nearly over 500 in number, sat on the road chanting slogans against the project, and despite a strong police force sent in to maintain the law and order, none of the villagers stepped back.
At a time when people have been asking the government officials to listen to their demands, the local MLA, including the Chief Minister has been adamant that the IIT project will come up there itself.
A meeting with the Chief Minister and the villagers earlier this week didn’t yield much success either, as locals demanded that the CM should come to their village and discuss their issues with the government.
At a time when a democratic system demands people’s participation in issues, here, locals have been completely left out in the decision-making process; and now, when the villagers have demanded the scrapping of the project, the government has misused state machinery to suppress voices from the ground.
Earlier, the government, in a way to pacify the locals, had removed 45,000 sq.mts of land from the IIT plan, which included a local temple. Also, in Monday’s meeting with the villagers, the government stated that they will compensate villagers adding that the project is of ‘national pride’.
However, locals have stood their ground, and are in no way ready to give up their lands for this project. Many villagers are dependent on these lands for their livelihoods – for grazing, farming, and daily needs. Providing an alternate land for villagers will not give them the pristine lands that they have been living on for years, many say.
The government, in all its might, is planning to go ahead with the IIT Goa project in the Melaulim-Sattari village; all this, despite stern opposition from locals.
Last night, two persons – Valpoi block Congress president Dasharath Mandrekar and local activist Vishwesh Prorob – were arrested by the Valpoi police under non-bailable offense for yesterday’s protest which disallowed demarcation of land by officials.
However, attempts to suppress local voices will not succeed, as citizens have made their demands clear, and are steady on it.
The job promises made by the government too hasn’t been accepted by the locals, as they claim these will be temporary, and the IIT project will be of no benefit to the locals at all.
After nearly four months of protesting the government has woken up now to the people’s concerns. “Last four months we have been agitating. Why has the CM not come to us,” a villager said.
The locals have also demanded that they should be given the ownership of the Alvara land in the ‘class A’ category, which has been denied to them for several years. The villagers have been using the land for decades to cultivate various crops. They also said that they have already submitted their documents to the government for land ownership, but the government is not ready to give them the lands.
Villagers have strongly cited that the project, besides destroying the livelihoods of families, will also take away to pristine ecology of the village. They have been strongly backed by all corners of the state, and some even said that they are willing to ‘die’ for their land, but they won’t allow the IIT project in the village.
The angry villagers were not afraid to get arrested, adding that leaders have come begging for votes during elections, but when problems have come up, ‘they add to the problem rather than solving it’.
“The locals of Melaulim will bring the pressure to the officials as well as the government,” said a local villager, as the presence of Sattari deputy collector Rajesh Ajgaonkar along with mamlatdar Dasharath Gawas was not feared by the villagers.
The fight to protect Melaulim village has till now been a local one, but as days and weeks pass, groups have come to realize that this is a larger issue, and sections across Goa should be united with the local villagers. The IIT project, along with others such as the coal hub, nationalization of rivers, and the three proposed linear project through the Bhagwan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary and Mollem national park, are all set to destroy the state’s rich biodiversity and ecology, and slowly, people of Goa are awakening to realize the grave reality of these projects.