In an embarrassment to the Goa state government, chief minister Pramod Sawant acceded to the demand of Melauli locals to shift the prestigious IIT project from the village and withdraw the FIRs registered against the protesters after “following the process”.
“The decision to shift the IIT project was taken keeping in mind peoples’ sentiments and the request of health minister Vishwajit Rane, who is also the local MLA, and local representatives,” Sawant said.
But the chief minister said, “the government is committed to setting up IIT in Goa at some other site,” and a decision on the new site would be “taken at the right time”.
This is the third occasion where stiff opposition from locals has forced the government to move the project. Now, it is likely to take a minimum of six months to finalise another site.
The government’s move to cancel the project at Melauli is the culmination of six month-long agitation by residents, which intensified over the past couple of weeks.
On January 6, villagers clashed with police during the land demarcation, forcing them to lathi charge locals and use tear gas to disperse them.
The government’s move came after six months of sustained protests, which intensified and grew sharply over the past two weeks
At least 20 people, including women constables, were injured.
Even as he cancelled the project, Sawant said the people of Melauli were “misguided”. He said IIT was non-polluting and an educational institute. He said he tried to convince the people, but that “some people” worked against the interests of the state.
Sawant said neither he nor Rane had any “personal interest” in the project.
Rane, who had initially endorsed the project at Melauli, himself changed track after widespread protests. “If I had the capacity to take this project ahead, it would have been different, but when the people want it shifted, I am helpless, and that is the reason I have come to you to shift the project,” he told Sawant.
Rane said he too tried his “level best” to convince the people about it, but since they didn’t buy his arguments, he didn’t have any solution.
The health minister also said that if Goa is to be developed, projects like IIT are needed. “If IIT had come up in our constituency, there would have been eco-tourism in Sattari,” he said.
On Friday, elected representatives from Sattari and Usgao submitted a memorandum to the chief minister to shift the IIT project from the village.
The government had earlier identified sites at Canacona and Sanguem for the institute. Power minister and Curchorem MLA Nilesh Cabral said this week that his constituents “welcome” the project.
IIT-Goa currently functions from the Goa Engineering College campus in Farmagudi, Ponda. The government may now look for sites at Sanguem or Quepem to set up the institute.