Violence erupts as police, villagers clash over proposed IIT-Goa campus

Protests against a proposed IIT-Goa campus took a violent turn on Wednesday with police lobbing tear gas shells at villagers who had set up a human chain at the entrance to the site about 50 kms from the state capital of Panaji. Police also resorted to lathicharge to clear the way for government surveyors to demarcate the site.

Retaliating against the lathicharge, the villagers pelted stones at the police, leading to injuries on both sides.

Villagers had been blocking the way on Tuesday as well, vowing not to allow the demarcation work to go ahead. On Tuesday, the police had backed off but today, they attempted to clear the blockade by force and physically drive away the squatting villagers.

“The police tried to forcefully enter by stomping over the women who were lying down to block the path. They then began firing tear gas shells and a lathicharge before retreating,” Shubham Shivolkar, a leader who was present at the site, said.

While no one was seriously injured, several villagers complained of having been struck by police lathis and tear gas shells.

Earlier in the day, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant said that while the government was open to discuss and address the villagers’ concerns, the IIT-Goa campus will be built at the present site.

“The demarcation is going on. It will continue. The people will (eventually) calm down. We have told them we are willing to discuss,” Sawant said, indicating that the Goa government was unwilling to back down from the present site which is the latest site identified after two previous locations also in ‘forested areas’ were opposed by locals.

Located in the state’s eastern corner at the foothills of the Western Ghats along the border with Karnataka and more than 50 kms from the state capital Panaji, the land chosen is thickly forested interspersed with cashew trees that villagers claim have sustained them for generations and have been demanding that the new proposed IIT be shifted to a different location, one which will come at less cost to the environment and their livelihoods.

IIT Goa has currently been functioning from a temporary campus at the Goa Engineering College. Two sites previously identified by the state government, in Canacona and Sanguem sub districts, for setting up of a permanent campus for IIT were also scrapped on account of protests from local residents and after pressure from the Opposition, which had alleged a land scam in shortlisting of sites for the top technology institute.

The present site was identified and the land, which belongs to the Goa government, was handed over to IIT-Goa in May last year during the Covid-19 lockdown. Protests have been on since.

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