Panaji, Jan 8 (IANS) Goa, geographically India’s smallest state, has been witnessing a series of protests over land intensive projects over the last few months.
While the ruling BJP has blamed the “anti-development” agitations on the upcoming state assembly polls scheduled in early 2022, a fast disappearing critical resource, land, is emerging as the key factor for popular unrest against “mega-projects”.
The most sustained protests of 2020, which have spilled into the near year, are linked to three central government-backed projects linked to double tracking of the South Western railway line, the expansion of the National Highway 4A and an interstate power project. All the projects are earmarked in protected areas, especially in and around Mollem village, which is ringed by the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park.
The rail, road and power projects are expected to be spread over an area of 135 hectares, 32 hectare and 48 hectares of forest land in protected areas respectively.
The protesters, who have been agitating for more than a year, have accused the government of utilising forest land for facilitating coal transportation.
In a recent letter to Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar, former Goa Forest Minister and BJP MLA Alina Saldanha makes a case for diminutive Goa’s inability to handle mega projects.
“The neighbouring states of Maharashtra and Karnataka are 82 and 52 times bigger than Goa. Therefore, what may be possible in these big states cannot be contained in the dot-sized state of Goa,” Saldanha said in her letter.
The letter makes a specific reference to Goa’s small geographic size, as an impediment to facilitation of big-ticket and land intensive projects, especially those linked to possible pollution.
According to the India State of Forest Report, a document compiled by the Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India, out of Goa’s total area admeasuring 3,702 sq. mts, 1,225 sq. mts (nearly 33 per cent) falls under the ‘recorded forest area’ category and 972 sq. kms. falls under the ‘unclassed forest’ category. Goa also has six wildlife sanctuaries and one national park.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has repeatedly stated that with protected forests in the hinterland and coastal regulation zone norms along the coastline, there is a lot of pressure on the state’s land resources for development purposes.
The anxiety over shrinking land resources is also reflected in the ongoing protest against an upcoming Indian Institute of Technology campus in North Goa’s Melaulim village.
The IIT campus project was relocated from Canancona sub district to Sanguem sub district over the last few years amid opposition from local village groups. The proposed project which spans an area of nearly 10 lakh sq. mts, was eventually conceived in Melaulim village in North Goa, where it has been opposed by local villagers too.
Although technically, the land in question is owned by the Goa government, the Melaulim villagers, mostly tribals, claim that the government is trying to displace them from the land on which they have settled for centuries.
More than 100 persons were booked, many of them charged with attempt to murder, by the local police after a scuffle between them and the protesters.
According to the Congress party, the series of protests against land intensive projects proves that the corporate lobby in connivance with the Goa government is eyeing the state’s most prized resource.
“It is abundantly clear that the corporate lobby is eyeing Goa’s most prized resource which is shrinking; land. Cornering land is similar to cornering power in Goa now,” party spokesperson Trajano D’Mello said.
Shrinking land resources as well as largescale in-migration are two key reasons why thinkers and activists in the state had been lobbying for granting of Special Status to Goa to help the state retain its unique identity.