Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant on Thursday withdrew his government’s decision to set up an Indian Institute of Technology in the Shel-Melauli village in Sattari taluka, which is home to the state’s cashew cultivators, reported NDTV. Following severe backlash, Sawant said the proposed campus would be shifted to another location.
The announcement was made after a meeting between Sawant and the sarpanches and Zilla Panchayat members from Sattari taluka on Thursday evening. State Health Minister and Valpoi MLA Vishwajit Rane were also present at this meeting.
Sawant said the decision was taken out of respect for “public sentiments”, according to The Indian Express. “On the request of the Health Minister [Vishwajit Rane] and the citizens of Sattari we have decided to cancel the project at Melalui and we will shift it to another location,” he told reporters. “If the people of the village have decided that they do not want the project and discussions have happened, then we do not want to cause any trouble.”
The project was planned from the perspective of development, but the state government could not convince locals, the chief minister said, adding that the government was yet to decide on an alternative site for the institute.
The IIT-Goa campus was proposed on a 10 lakh square metre area in Shel-Malauli and Guleli villages, some 50 kilometres from Panaji. The local residents, who are mostly cashew farmers, have been protesting against the decision of the BJP government, saying they were not taken into confidence. They fear that they could also be moved to areas not suitable for cashew cultivation, which is their sole means of livelihood.
The situation escalated last week when protestors clashed with the police. At least 12 police personnel and several villagers were injured in the violence that broke out in the forest area near Shel-Melauli village on January 6, according to NDTV.
Following this, Rane, who had initially supported the project, appealed to the chief minister to reconsider the plan. The state health minister also wrote to Sawant, urging him to immediately change the site of the campus.“I have written to CM Pramod Sawant that I do not want an IIT in my constituency,” Rane had said. “I have taken this decision in the people’s interest… the people’s sentiments are against the IIT.”
He urged the chief minister to withdraw the cases lodged against the protestors. During the protest on January 6, hundreds of villagers had gathered in the area forming a human chain in order to prevent land survey officers from entering the location and carrying out the demarcation.
This led to a confrontation between the protestors and the police. Villagers alleged that Valpoi Police Inspector Sagar Ekoskar stamped upon an elderly woman during the clashes, following which a huge crowd gathered outside the police station, demanding action against the officer.
The police had then registered cases against 21 persons on charges of attempt to murder, unlawful assembly and criminal conspiracy among others. No action was initiated against Ekoskar.
Sawant on Thursday said that the police will review the cases filed against protestors. “There are requests to withdraw the cases filed against protestors,” he said. “There is a process which needs to be followed. We are reviewing the cases.”