A ‘David vs Goliath’ fight as people battle the govt against IIT in Sattari
After almost four years since it was set-up at GEC Farmagudi, the prestigious IIT Goa has been handed over 10 lakh sq mt of land at Melauli, Sattari. This is after two oppositions in Canacona and Sangem taluka over the project. Now, the government plans in Sattari too has met a similar fate as people are up in arms against the project. In a bid to find out why people would oppose the prestigious project like IIT, Team Herald – led by SURAJ NANDREKAR and photojournalist Sagun Gawade visited rural village and what came out was startling as the villagers complained about threats and transfers. They also fear their traditional way of life and agrarian livelihood along with the village’s springs will be lost forever if the IIT project materialises
On July 9, the Valpoi Police detained a group of Melaulim villagers, who were about to hold a media briefing opposing the proposed IIT project at Murmune village in Guleli panchayat, Sattari.
Videos that went viral on social media showed four persons sitting on the dais following and norms of social distancing. Just before they were about to start the media briefing, Valpoi Police Inspector Sagar Ekoskar entered and stopped them. Through the videos, people were shocked to how the villagers were threatened that they would be put behind bars if they addressed the media.
The Valpoi police then proceeded to remove the conference banner and took the villagers – two women and two men – to the police van and whisked them away to the police station.
Interestingly, the Valpoi Police Inspector Sagar Ekoskar said that the action was taken as the meeting was organised without taking requisite permissions. “So we detained the three villagers and warned them. Later on we released them,” Ekoskar said.
Movement gains momentum
However, the police action has given a shot in the arm to the entire moment against the IIT project at Sattari. The threat, transfers and detentions did not discourage or deter them from taking the movement ahead.
Further, before the police had taken this action, the opposition of the people was limited to just one village. Now, following the outrage at the police’s action, the opposition has spread across Goa. The locals point out that they have started to get support from across the State from NGOs, social activists and so also the political parties, but they are very cautious while taking support as there are some who want to take advantage of the current situation.
Recounting what happened, villager Shubham Shivolkar said, “We arranged the press briefing against the proposed IIT Goa project in Shel Melavali village, but suddenly the police came and stopped us and did not allow us to hold the press conference. We will continue our fight against the IIT Goa project”.
Villagers have been voicing their apprehension over the project since June this year, pointing out that the location is a biodiversity-rich area and that the land is the only means of livelihood for many of them.
We do not want IIT in our village: Melauli villagers
The villagers speaking to Herald claimed that the IIT project will only destroy the environment of the village and create a concrete jungle with no access to the villagers.
As per locals, the village has six wards and the area that has been handed over to IIT has eight springs.
They point out that while potable water supply had started in recent years, earlier they would all depend only on these springs for water. Incidentally, this is still the practice when there is no water supply.
As it is villagers complain, that the water supply is just for 2 hours, which is not sufficient to meet the demand of the people.
Shubham Shivolkar, from Melauli Sattari, himself a B.Tech student n Margao and one of the four detained by police on July 9, says the land is in an eco-sensitive zone and that there cannot be any development or construction activity there.
“We strongly oppose the IIT project as the land falls under both eco-sensitive area and eco-sensitive zone, which means there cannot be any construction more than 20,000 sq metres. But we have the IIT report, received under RTI, which says 40% of the area will be used for construction, which is totally illegal,” Shivolkar.
Shubham adds that the government has handed over the land without informing the locals or taking them into confidence.
“The area has perennial sources of water like springs wells, which means there shouldn’t be any construction activity as it would affect the ground water source,” he added.
Shubham charged that the panchayat has also taken the decision without informing the Melauli locals.
“They called only Murmune locals for a special meeting, wherein 25 people questioned them about IIT. However, they received no proper answer and the panchayat then told them that they will organise a special gram sabha for all these queries to be answered, but that never happened as well,” he said.
He adds that the villagers are totally in the dark on the issue. “We urge all Goans to support us in this cause and save our village”.
Another local, Sadiyo Melekar says the village has many devasthans and with Jhalmi being the main; people from all four villages come there for annual celebrations and that there are several rituals performed for Shigmo, Kalo etc.
“Once IIT comes here, everything will be finished and we will lose all our traditions, which have been happening for ages,” he said.
Harassment and intimidation
Shubham Shivlkar further says that when few youth started going to people and creating awareness about the ill-effects about the IIT issue, they started getting threats and notice from the police.
“We started getting notices from the police citing hypothetical reasons. Police once said that they said it was under Section 144, preventive measure as they have information that we would be conducting a meeting in the future,” he laughed.
“We feel like the fundamental rights given by the Constitution have been taken away from us,” he said.
Sadyo Melekar adds that the government started transferring people from their village, who are working in the health department.
In fact Sadayo, Shubham’s father Meghnath Shivolkar, who was working in Margao Hospicio has been transferred to Canacona.
Besides, he said, another specially-abled lady, an anganwadi worker from Lata Gaonkar was transferred to Sanguem from Murmune, Guleli.
However, this move too, the transfer Gaonkar has caused outrage, given that this employee of the Women and Child Department is also the wife of one of the anti-IIT activists.
“Some were shunted to Canacona some were sent to Pernem. Some to Quepem and as such they wanted us to stop the movement against IIT,” he said.
However, the government action has now given courage to the people.
“Earlier, we were just handful but now we have the entire village and State with us,” he said.
Panchayat too in the dark, says local panch
Arjun Melekar, Panch, Guleli says he has been in politics for 6-7 terms and understands politics well.
“I will stand with the people as they told me they do not want IIT here as it would mean they lose land and that people here would be inconvenienced. Hence as per the people’s wish, we do not want IIT here,” he said.
Asked whether he had any knowledge of the project before the land was handed over; or if the panchayat was taken into confidence, he replied, “We have not been told by the government anything in this regard. We had sent a letter to the Deputy Collector for a special meeting but we have not received any response.”
Villagers describe rich history of the area
Aged over 70 years, Ram Melekar, says he has been staying there since birth and that he has always this place full of greenery.
“The village has about six wards under the Jhalmi Devasthan, who have been cultivating the land here from the Portuguese time,” he said.
Explaining the past developments, he said that before the survey was conducted by the Revenue department, the land was occupied by Shamba Vishnu Gaonkar, from Murmune.
“During survey from 1971 to 75 people requested the surveyors to transfer the land in their name as they were doing cultivation and plantations for ages. But, instead, the surveyors asked the villagers for the papers, which they did not have,” he narrated.
He further disclosed that in 1972, Shamba Gaonkar’s son Vishnu Gaonkar filed a case against 13 villagers for allegedly cultivating on his land illegally.
“The Mamlatdar and Talathi had given us papers that we have been cultivating for ages, which we presented in court and the court ruled in our favour despite this, the surveyors refused to transfer land in our name. As such barring some land, the rest they said was government land. However, this did not deter the locals as they continued with cashew plantation from then and till date for the last 45 years they have continued,” he stated.
After few years, many applied again to the Deputy Collector and mamlatdar for ownership documents.
“A few got orders but they never got their name listed in Form 1 & XIV. Also, many others did not get any reply,” he said.
Melekar further adds that in 2006, they had applied to the Collector to transfer 41,000 sq mts of land for the Devasthan but received no reply.
He further says that the people have now started this movement as the authorities have handed over 13 lakh sq metres to IIT, without looking into what people have been doing here for 45 years; how many houses are there or without taking any of them into confidence.
“Many families will lose their livelihood as they depend on these cultivation and plantations of cashew,” he says. while adding, “The people here get Rs 20,000 – 25,000 every year from cashew plantations, which is like pension for them and the government is taking that away too”
He also revealed that Murmune villagers, who are mostly of ST samaj also have many cashew plantations there.
“In another survey, which began after 1975, people from four other villages like Guleli, Shelgao etc also lost their land to the government,” he said.
Now, he says, people have demanded answers from the panchayats who don’t have any answers about IIT as they too claim that they have not been taken into confidence.
Why just 9 lakhs, we must hand over 13 lakh sq mt of land to
IIT Goa, Vishwajit Rane note said ignoring villagers’ livelihood?
Despite the scarcity of land for industries and other purposes in Goa, Industries minister Vishwajit Rane wanted to hand over IIT Goa four lakh sq mt of excess land.
As per information received, IIT Goa wanted nine lakh sq mts but Rane, who is the Valpoi MLA, was willing to hand over 13 lakh sq mts to the institution as it would bring about development in the village and constituency.
A note moved by the Minister to the government said that the land was already in possession of the government and can be handed over without any problems.
Further, the minister wanted to hand over four lakh sq mts of excess land to the IIT, which could also be used for industrial purpose of locals there.
“Reference to the IIT project that, we have proposed in the Village Panchayat Guleli in Sattari Taluka. It is my humble submission that we should give the total revenue land of approx 13 lakhs to IIT. This is very important as IIT will bring total transformation and development in that area,” he stated in the note (certified copy of which is in possession of Herald).
He added that he has come to know that the government wants to hand over just 9 lakh sq metres and the government must hand over total land as “it will be put to no use”.
“I am informed that it has been finalised to 09 lakhs and maybe there are some other plans. Requesting the Chief Secretary to kindly examine and I think we should give the total revenue land available because the land will not be put to use,” the minister said.
He requested the Chief Secretary to intervene and look into the matter.
“We can intimate the IIT that the whole land of 13 lakhs could be given to them. It is a request from my side as I do not know why it has come down to 09 lakhs,” the minister had said in 2019.
However, the government handed over 10 lakh sq mts to IIT Goa and not 13 lakh as there was encroachment by people who had plantations there.
Rane reiterated that his government will go ahead with the IIT project. “The proposal for more land may come in the next cabinet meeting,” he added.
Come what may, IIT will come up in Guleli: MINISTER
Reacting to the opposition from locals on the IIT, Goa issue, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has said that he knows what is good for his constituency and hence IIT will come up…. come what may.
“Whoever opposes, IIT will come up there in Guleli as it would be a feather in the cap for Goa. I am a local MLA there and I know how people are being instigated by the NGOs from outside,” he says.
On the opposition by Devasthan committee, he said, we are seized that there is a temple where Shigmo and Kalo is held annually.
“We have now moved a proposal to keep this area totally out of the IIT land and a decision would be taken in the next cabinet (meeting). Even the decision on handing over additional land for IIT would be taken in the next cabinet,” he said. He added that he has met the Chief Minister with the villagers on how to keep the Devasthan land out.
“People need to understand that the commitment from IIT is to spend Rs 2,200 crore in Guleli itself over the next two years. It is the benefit to the people of the village,” he said. On opposition by locals, he said there is one person who is opposing this, who has encroached one lakh sq mt of government land.
“We have initiated an inquiry and will take the one lakh sq mts back. Those who have genuinely lost land will be rehabilitated and rest is revenue land,” he said.
Explaining further, he said that the IIT will not come by cutting of trees and that it will come where the plateau is there. “People are doing false propaganda and misguiding locals by saying that locals will be given employment only to clean toilets,” he said adding
“I welcome the project as it has more investment than Mopa. Till I am the MLA of Sattari, I will see that IIT comes there,” he said.