Panaji: The Opposition in Goa has accused the BJP-led coalition government in the state of “stifling democracy”, a day after three persons were arrested by the police in North Goa’s Melaulim village, mid-way through a press conference called to oppose land acquisition procedures for the upcoming IIT-Goa campus project.
The three villagers from Melaulim village, located in the Sattari sub district, namely Shubham Shivolkar, Pandurang Shivolkar and Ram Melekar were arrested for violation of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in course of their press conference, taken to the local police station and later release on a bond by the North Goa district police.
“Will the Director General of Police explain what warranted the police to arrest the citizens of Sattari who were holding a peaceful press conference? It is the duty of the police to protect the people and not to come under pressure from various power centres,” Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat told reporters, accusing the police of “high handedness”.
In May, the Goa government had formally transferred 10 lakh sq. mts land in and around Melaulim village in North Goa for setting up IIT-Goa campus.
The villagers, including the three who were arrested, have been questioning the decision as well as the hurried land acquisition processes which are being put in place by the government to acquire the land.
On Thursday evening, state Congress president Girish Chodankar is scheduled to address a press conference at the same venue, from where the three villagers were picked up by the police for detention.
“Will the DGP Goa arrest me tomorrow when I address a press conference at 4 p.m. at Melaulim in support of citizens who were arrested by the police on instructions of a high profile minister?” Chodankar told IANS on Thursday.
A network of green NGOs in the state, Rainbow Warriors, has also condemned the detention of the three villagers of Melaulim.
“The villagers were only attempting to explain to the people of Goa their resistance to the attempt to usurp their lands, under the guise of IIT Goa,” a statement issued by Rainbow Warriors said.
While top officials were unwilling to come on record, when asked about the incident, a senior police officer said that Section 144 continues to be imposed in Goa, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic and the detention of the three villagers was in sync with the prohibitory law.
“There was an assembly of people which had gathered at the time of the press conference, which is in violation of Section 144. Therefore, they were detained and released,” the police official said.
Ever since an IIT was allotted to Goa by the central government in 2014, the institute has been functioning from a temporary campus shared by the Goa Engineering College in Farmagudi village in South Goa.
Two sites previously identified by the state government, in Canacona and Sanguem sub districts, for setting up a permanent campus for the IIT were dropped in the face of protests from local residents and after pressure from the Opposition, which had alleged a land scam in shortlisting of sites for the technology institute.