Chief Minister Pramod Sawant while at the Vijay Sankalp Purti Melava in Canacona recently threw broad hints that the IIT campus may be set up at the isolated Kulti Plateau in Poinguinim village. It is learnt that a team of around 12 officers have already visited the site which is spread over 9.5 lakh square metres of Comunidade land. The Poinguinim site emerges as a favoured one because it is best suited for the IIT due to an easy approach by road and proximity to the Konkan Railway tracks, river, coast and also an electricity sub-station.
While the government is eyeing Kulti Plateau, it has reportedly kept three other options open – Sanguem, Quitol-Quepem and Dharbandora. Interestingly, authorities have moved swiftly to the Poinguinim site to undertake an informal inspection. The irony is that the people in the area are not taken into confidence, although it is believed that the project could get support from the locals.
It appears lessons haven’t been learnt, especially after the bitter experience at Shel-Melauli that even triggered violence. Lest we forget, a few villages from Sattari got together to oppose the IIT project and even faced a lathi charge and police action before forcing the government into a retreat in early 2021. Earlier in 2017, the BJP-led government under the leadership of then chief minister Manohar Parrikar was forced to exit the Canacona site – the Bhagwati plateau at Loliem -- after a sustained opposition by locals.
Projects that are coming in the way of ecology, environment and heritage are bound to face opposition, and Goa has been a witness to people taking up cudgels against the government forcing a roll-back of decisions. A recent case in point is the plan to beautify the historic Cabo de Rama Fort. While the GTDC has approved Rs 21.45 crore for the renovation and beautification of the fort, there is still an element of doubt in the mind since there is no engagement with locals.
It has been eight years now the State government is struggling to find a place for a permanent IIT campus and has already been forced to exit from Loliem, Sanguem and Shel-Melauli. The common thread in all three cases is that people of the area have not been taken into confidence and there has been a lack of transparency.
Setting up an IIT campus requires vast tracts of land spanning lakhs of square metres and by any means the project is bound to change the vibe and the identity of the area. There are benefits that the premier educational institute is going to come in, but there would be compromises to be made too. Keeping the track record in mind, the government should engage locals and make them partners in progress instead of trying to impose projects on them. Development cannot happen against the mandate of the people, and a clear rejection on earlier occasions amplifies the fact that locals have to be made partners of progress. Let there be transparency and clear communication before a stone moves at the site.