Opposition to IIT Goa campus gathers steam, villagers' protests intensify
Opposition to the Indian Institute Technology's proposed campus in Goa is gathering steam. Over the last fortnight, multiple public meetings have been held by residents of the Loliem-Polem villages, where the IIT campus is planned to come up. On 19 September, about a hundred residents protested outside the South Goa collectorate, and met the collector.
Sections of village residents have opposed the IIT venue ever since it was announced in May. The campus is slated to come up on the Bhagwati plateau, part of which is used seasonally by farmers, while the rest is forest land contiguous to the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa and the Kali Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. Locals have reported the presence of tigers, leopards, and bison in the area, all of which are accorded the highest protection by wildlife laws.
Villagers are also concerned about water security of the village. Laterite plateaus near the western coast region are known to be water towers. Being porous, they absorb and store rainwater, which is let out in perennial springs or in wells.
Sarpanch stalling special gram sabha
There have been four public meetings in Loliem over the last fortnight, opposing the IIT campus. The opposition has intensified after survey work for the IIT campus took place over the last few days, with some locals alleging that trees were also cut in the process.
The last meeting on 18 September had 600-700 attendees.
There are 4,500 voters in the village, according to the village sarpanch Bhushan Prabhugaonkar.
While the sarpanch is in support of the IIT, he has been cornered as a majority of the panchayat members are in opposition.
On 15 September, six of the eight panchayat councillors sent a letter to the sarpanch, demanding a special gram sabha to discuss the project. "People of Loliem-Polem villages are disturbed due to ongoing land survey of the IIT project, thus requesting you to take special gram sabha to discuss the matter," says a letter signed by the six members - Shailesh Pagi, Santan Xavier Da Costa, Ashutosh Bandekar, Rajesh Naik, Virendra Naik and Caitani Dias.
Reports in the local media suggest that the members may move a no confidence motion against the sarpanch.
The sarpanch has been reluctant to host the gram sabha. Speaking to Catch in August, he had said that it was not possible to hold a special gram sabha before the panchayat was officially informed about the IIT campus.
Village resident Denis Fernandes, who is also associated with the Citizens Committee of Loliem that is leading the opposition, said the sarpanch was keeping villagers in the dark. "As per panchayat rules, he has to take up the issue. Even in other villages like Mopa, where an airport project is planned, the panchayat held a special gram sabha without having been informed about the airport coming up there," Fernandes said.
On 19 September, around hundred village residents and supporters met South Goa district collector Swapnil Naik. Naik has promised to look into the matter and respond to their concerns in two days. The residents also held a protest outside the collectorate in Margao.
Interestingly, the National Institute of Technology, Goa, which was set up in 2010, was also supposed to have its permanent campus in Loliem village. But this allotment of land was cancelled, following public opposition. As a result, NIT students continue to study from their temporary campus in the Goa Engineering College campus in east Goa.
IIT Goa's temporary campus, which was inaugurated this year, is also in the Goa Engineering College premises, creating an unprecedented situation where three engineering colleges are running inside the same campus.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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