The imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC at the proposed Indian Institute of Technology site in Sanguem can be viewed as an admission on the part of the government that there is a law and order situation in the area and that it could escalate. This section of the code is imposed to prevent the gathering of five or more persons to discourage the possibility of a large group of people coming together and thwarting the normal functioning of the area. But, it could easily be questioned as to why is there or why should there be some unrest in Sanguem. This protest was entirely avoidable and here’s why.
The reason for imposing Section 144 of the CrPC in Sanguem is the ongoing protests against the setting up of the India Institute of Technology on land that farmers of the area claim is theirs and they further claim to have documents to prove that it does not belong to the government. In a sense, as one reads of the protests in the papers or watches them unfold on television, one gets a weary feeling of déjà vu settling in as the situation is repeating itself, with very little to differentiate it from the earlier protests that forced the government to find a new site for the IIT. To be clear, none of the protests, the current one included, is against the IIT. All the protests have been because people of the area, where it is sought to be located, have questioned the selection of the site. The issues here are land ownership and usage.
To recap, in a long protest that prolonged for weeks, farmers in Shel Melauli of Sattari taluka, had objected to the IIT in the village claiming the land that had been handed over to the institute belonged to them and was traditionally used for agricultural or horticultural purposes. In Sanguem, it is the same reason that the protesting farmers have proffered – farmland that belongs to them, with farming being their sole means of livelihood.
So, were there absolutely no lessons learnt from the long saga of the protest by the farmers of Shel Melauli? It does appear to be a shade unbelievable that the government would allow a similar protest at another place in the State. It happened that way when it just shouldn’t have.
In January 2021, after having acquiesced to the demands of the farmers of Shel Melauli and agreeing to relocate the IIT project, the government had announced that it would set up a committee to identify new land for the institute. The committee was set up months later and after visiting several sites presented its recommendation on identifying the land it found suitable for the project. But, and this is a valid question under the circumstances and given the previous protests, didn’t the committee confirm that the land that it had identified was free from all controversies?
The committee was tasked with identifying land for the IIT.
Given the background against which the committee was set up, the first task of the members of the committee should have been to ensure that there is no repeat of what had occurred in Shel Melauli. It wasn’t that this committee was unaware of what had occurred. Yet, a repeat of Shel Melauli is exactly what is playing out today in Sanguem, at the site identified and selected for the prestigious institute by the committee. Shouldn’t this have been avoided at all costs? Given the past history of sites for the prestigious institute, any new site selected for it should have been clear in all respects.
The government and the committee took their time in identifying the new piece of land. Despite having announced in January last year that land would be allotted to the institute ‘in the coming days’, it was weeks before the committee was constituted and many more months before it arrived at its decision.
Here’s what should have been done: On identifying a suitable piece of land, the committee should have interacted with the local residents, the local government representatives and the MLA, taking everybody on board. The process should also have been conducted transparently, keeping the people informed of the progress at all stages. It would surely have avoided the problems that the government is now faced with. These are just a few precautions that could have been taken to avoid the current situation. Sadly, neither the government nor the committee appeared to have this foresight.
In what is happening, we cannot forget that the Indian Institute of Technology is important for Goa, and that it is needed in the State. It is a prestigious institute of higher education that should not be made to wait for land and be dragged into controversies and protests that are not of its making. It is imperative that the government quickly finds a solution and give Goa this prestigious project.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author)