Who is responsible for the violent exchanges between police and locals at Melauli? Is this the way the government is going to go ahead with projects facing public opposition? The insistence to proceed with survey work despite appeals by locals to address their issues meant that the government was prepared to go to any extent to get the project rolling. In an intense ‘war-like’ ground situation locals came under a fierce police lathi attack where even women were manhandled, and the only form of defence for people on site was retaliation. The situation was forced upon people because they felt a sense of betrayal after positive assurances given by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant.
If we may recall, a few months earlier Sawant, with a team of officers in tow, had walked through the length and breadth of the terrain familiarizing himself with the landscape while trying to figure out an amicable solution. Sawant had assured residents that the project would move forward only after taking the people of the area into confidence. There were others too who gave their soothing touches. Science and Technology Minister Michael Lobo had put forth his view that government should consider shifting the IIT site if the villagers of Melauli are opposed to the project. BJP State President Sadanand Tanavade, who also favoured shifting of the IIT at one point of time, was toying with the idea of proposing Farmagudi as an option. Since the CM had taken the initiative of reaching out to people, he should have engaged them again before proceeding with survey work.
IIT could be a prestigious project for Goa given its stature as a premier institute. It will significantly contribute to the long-perceived ambition of establishing Goa as an educational hub. However, these landmarks and national scores cannot be achieved by trampling upon local interests. Sawant’s last outreach with the people of Melauli was very deceiving, to say the least, because proceeding with survey work only means that there’s no concern for those fighting for land rights. The people continue to fight for the rights of property and the promises made of rehabilitation and relocation haven’t been endorsed. The fear of displacement looms.
Moreover, with other areas of the State also simmering in discontent and agitations over issues, the government suddenly appears to be heading into a showdown virtually tearing down the narrative of a peace-loving Goa. Besides the IIT projects in Melauli, there are sugarcane farmers agitating in Sanguem, protests over Mollem projects and opposition to double-tracking in Mormugao and parts of Salcete. There is opposition to River Sal dredging, and there is visible anger over an ordinance to amend the Municipalities Act kept in abeyance. Goa indeed is on the boil.
The government should have assessed the situation and taken quick steps to de-escalate tension. Going on an offensive using brute force to accomplish targets is not only undemocratic but also unfair to the people fighting for their basic rights and fight for survival. Engagement is paramount, as much as keeping up the promises made, if Sawant wants to narrow the chasm of distrust. Problem areas and people’s perspective cannot be ignored. No matter how severe the pangs of development are, the rights of people must be respected.