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Dreaming of joining IIT Goa? Its proposed campus may just get shelved

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 7:53 IST

Are you an aspiring engineer, daydreaming about joining the newly inaugurated Indian Institute of Technology in Goa? Well, you may have to dream longer because the institute's proposed 300-acre campus in the coastal state has landed in controversy over environment and livelihood concerns.

Nestled between the sea and the Western Ghats, the new IIT is slated to come up at Loliem, an idyllic village at the southernmost tip of Goa. But locals have raised alarm that the location, which is a plateau, sustains natural water sources of several villages nearby and is a common grazing land. The land has forests, which are contiguous with the forests of a wildlife sanctuary and a tiger reserve, and support endangered wildlife.

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As a result, the village has decided to put the question of having an IIT to the local gram sabha. An adverse verdict may throw a spanner in the prestigious institution's entry in Goa.

The location

The IIT campus is slated to come up over a 300-acre area on a plateau known as Bhagwati Moll. The laterite plateau - like all such plateaus west of the Western Ghats - absorbs rainwater, letting it out in natural springs and streams that irrigate the land around and fill up wells, which are the predominant source of water.

The land earmarked for the campus also includes open spaces, grazing land used by the villagers, and an 11th century temple.

Because of this, the proposal to make the IIT there - decided by a ministry committee in May 2016 - has divided the local community.

Community concerns

While HRD minister Prakash Javadekar inaugurated a temporary campus at Farmagudi in central Goa on 30 July, several villagers from Loliem were outside protesting.

A group of Loliem villagers, organised under the 'Citizens Committee of Loliem' have written to the MHRD and Goa state authorities urging them to relocate the IIT elsewhere.

Denis Fernandes, the president of the Citizen Committee, told Catch that the IIT will set in motion a series of ecologically damaging development in the village.

"As of now, the plateau is not connected by road. The moment the road is built for the IIT, all kinds of infrastructural development will come up and destroy the area. Loliem has a population of maximum 5000. The IIT will bring in another five or ten thousand," Fernandes said.

Ecological damage

The letter sent by the Committee, which claims to have at least 1,000 signatures, argues that the plateau recharges groundwater and feeds streams used by several villages nearby. The area also has forests home to endangered wildlife, such as leopards and pangolin, as well as the 11th century AD temple.

They point out that Loliem village was demarcated as an eco-sensitive area even by the Kasturirangan Committee on Western Ghats. The government had even included the campus location, and the adjoining villages, in a draft notification for eco-sensitive zones in the Western Ghats.

The land earmarked for the campus includes open spaces, grazing land, and an 11th century temple

"The Bhagwati plateau and the surrounding area is easily the most eco-sensitive part of this eco-sensitive village. The proposed IIT will completely destroy the ecological features of the plateau, converting this rich and highly productive land into a veritable desert," the letter said. "It is quite certain that the Forest Clearance will never be given since this plateau is contiguous to the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and is a critical part of the limited tiger habitat in Goa State."

IIT to come on forests land

This is probably the biggest concern - that the forests on the proposed IIT campus are part of a forest range that extends to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa and Kali Tiger Reserve in Karnataka.

An expert committee set up by the government had also identified the area as a forest. The Supreme Court-mandated South Goa Forest Committee was tasked with identifying 'private forests' in the state, which could then be notified.

One member of the committee confirmed that they had had identified the proposed IIT location as a forest. "The area has identified as a prospective private forest, awaiting survey and demarcation," said Abhijit Prabhudesai, the member, and an environment activist.

Prabhudesai said that the grasslands adjoining the forests are a haven for wildlife, including bisons. "If we put camera traps there, we can surely find tigers," he said, adding that the survey and demarcation stage is delayed as the Goa government hasn't provided surveyors for the last three years.

Divided community

Although environmental concerns remain an open question, it has already divided the village community.

The land for the new IIT campus belongs to the local communidade or community-managed land (the system and its name dating back to Goa's Portuguese colonial days). The communidade has given its approval to the IIT.

In 2009, the village panchayat had passed a resolution, suggesting that the plateau be used for, among other things, an agricultural college and an "institutional area".

The panchayat will convene soon to pass a resolution on whether the village wants an IIT

However, the green light to the IIT has divided the village. Fernandes and his group are also at loggerheads with the Sarpanch of the Loliem-Polem gram panchayat, Bhushan Prabhugaonkar, who they say is in favour of the IIT. On 1 August, sarpanch vetoed a discussion that Fernandes tried to initiate on whether an IIT should come up.

While Fernandes states that this is in violation of Panchayat rules, Prabhugaonkar maintains that a resolution cannot be passed without receiving a formal intimation on the IIT from the government.

Now, the panchayat is planning to convene a special meeting to pass a resolution on whether the village wants an IIT.

Speaking to Catch, Prabhugaonkar said that a special gram sabha will be held to pass a resolution on whether the village wants the IIT or not, but only when he gets official plans and blueprints of the campus.

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First published: 2 August 2016, 10:56 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.