Clearing Way For IIT

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State should adequately compensate people displaced from Shel-Melaulim

THE agitation against the Indian Institute of Technology-Goa campus at Shel-Melaulim village of Sattari taluka turned horrid on Wednesday after the protestors clashed with the police. The villagers had gathered outside the project site to prevent surveyors from carrying out demarcation work. They ignored the pleas by the officials to disperse and continued to block the road. However, on finding that the survey work had started, they allegedly began pelting stones at the police, who in retaliation resorted to a lathi charge and lobbed teargas shells to bring the situation under control. There were injuries on either side in the process. The venue of the protest shifted from the campus site to the Valpoi police station as the protestors marched to taluka headquarters demanding suspension of police inspector in-charge of Valpoi police station for his alleged violent acts against the protesting people. With the government and the protestors being firm on their stand vis-à-vis IIT project, it appears that the protests are likely to continue.

The protestors have been arguing that they would be deprived of their livelihood in case the project comes up on the government land which has been occupied by them for long.  They have been making a living by using the government land for various purposes without actually having legal rights over it. The contention of the protestors is that since their names reflect in the Form I&XIV they are de facto owners of the land, while the government has been saying that they were illegal encroachers and do not enjoy the rights over the land. According to the government officials, there are around a dozen families whose names have been registered as encroachers. Despite contentious claims by the villagers, the government has been engaging in talks with them so as to ensure that the prestigious project comes up without hassles. Though the government has offered to provide alternative land to those likely to lose it to the project and give preference to the locals for jobs and other benefits, the solution has been evasive.

There are many cases of people having encroached government land and some having appropriated it with the help of politicians and government officials. While some have been lucky to get government receipts, others have not been. The state government is also at fault: despite knowledge of encroachments, the officials never did anything to evict the encroachers. Local politicians have used the illegal status of the occupants to harvest votes during every election that has been held in Goa for decades. The situation in Shel-Melaulim could have been prevented had the cases of encroachments been taken to a logical end and settled once for all. The Shel-Melaulim protests should serve as eye opener for the government as this is not the only place where the government land has been encroached. If the government buckles under the pressure and gives up rights over the land then there is possibility of villagers from other parts of Sattari taluka and other parts of the state using the premise to put up their claims and seek ownership of the land encroached by them.

Now that the situation has come to a boil, the authorities should take decisive action to ensure that all the cases of encroachments are fast tracked and decided so as to prevent any similar situation in future. The state government should desist from using force against the protestors and engage them in more meaningful dialogue. It is for the government and the aggrieved parties to sit across and find a workable solution and prevent clashes that could be detrimental to one another. The government should refrain from using police force against the protestors. On their side, the protesting villagers have to realise that police are duty bound to protect government officials and should restrain from attacking them. The best way would have been to settle the case in the courts on a fast track. Perhaps the protestors are aware of their legal status and as such have refrained from seeking intervention of the court. The government should come up with an adequate compensation package to end the deadlock and facilitate completion of the project.