The Goa government has again found itself embroiled in a storm regarding land for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in the State. Since the IIT-Goa was first announced in 2017, till date the State has been scouring for land that can be allotted to the institute, but every parcel of land that has been identified has met with opposition from local people. There are two issues here: either the government is not being judicious in the selection of land or it has not been able to convince the people on IIT’s importance.
Taking first the importance of an IIT, it is a matter of prestige for Goa to have such an institute of excellence in the State. Just last week in the National Rankings Framework not a single institute of higher education of Goa figured in the overall 100 best institutions in the country. This has to be corrected and an IIT is one such institute that can get the State onto that list. Besides, an institute such as this would lend credence to the oft-repeated statements of the government to promote Goa as an educational hub. If the government is unable to allot land to an IIT, will other institutes – especially those with private investment – be inclined to set up in Goa?
It is not in the interests of Goa’s future educational hub development to allow such protests to continue, especially since when the objections are to an institute such as the IIT this becomes national news, and the long history of opposition to it at every identified site is resurrected.
In January 2021, when the government finally acquiesced to the demands of the people of Shel-Melauli and agreed not to permit the IIT on that site, it also promised an alternative site to the institute ‘in the coming days’. Now, 18 months later, the IIT land issue has returned to the news primarily for the same reasons that it was moved out of Shel-Melauli. From even a cursory scanning of the issue, it appears that no lessons were learnt from the past.
The government, last year, had constituted a committee whose terms of reference were to identify suitable sites for the institute and submit its report to the government that will then finalise the location. In the light of how local people had objected to the site identified earlier for the institute, the government should have ensured that selection this time would not be the subject of protests by following a few simple steps. Rather than merely entrusting the committee with the task of identifying land, it should have brought in transparency at this identification stage itself whereby it could take all stakeholders – the local people in particular – into confidence so that any issues with the selected site would be sorted out early in the process and if there were such matters that could not be tidied up, the committee could immediately look elsewhere.
Simultaneously, this would ensure that any vested political interests would also emerge at that point, giving the government time enough to find solutions before making the selection of the site public. Let’s not overlook the fact that land at Sanguem – identified earlier and not this time – had led to an Independent MLA withdrawing support to the government.
Solutions are still available but only if the government is willing to take certain decisions. For that, we first need to ask the question of whether Goa lacks land for such an institute or whether there is alternative land that can be repurposed for an educational institute? If the land with the Goa University, Goa Engineering College, National Institute of Technology and a couple of private institutes of higher education are totalled it adds up to 42 lakh square metres. The IIT is looking at 10 lakh square metres, which will be in addition to this. Since there are land constraints in Goa, can the land either with Goa University or Goa Engineering College be allotted to the IIT with some common facilities? The State’s experiment with such a project at Cujira for schools and colleges has worked well.
The other option is what has already been suggested by an opposition party last year. It may require some legislation or policy changes, as it involves repurposing the land that had been allotted to the Special Economic Zones and that the State has now got back in its possession and is remaining idle. There has been a long silence from the government on this. But, just a month ago, the government did allot the India-International University of Legal Education and Research a site at Sancoale that was earlier allotted to an industry. Though this Sancoale land is only for a transition period until a permanent campus is set up, it sets a precedent. Besides, the SEZ land is already in possession of the government, thus avoiding the pitfalls of opposition to its acquisition.
There are solutions and they can be applied before the IIT land issue spirals into a bigger controversy but only if the government acts fast.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author)